CLEVELAND, N.C — . Debra Binkley drove Tuesday to the home in rural western Rowan County where she and her husband raised a son and daughter.
Yellow crime scene tape blocked her from entering the front yard of the 1,200-square-foot rental home that’s flanked by cow pastures and farms.
It seemed just yesterday she was holding her baby daughter in her arms inside the house.
“I have a lot of happy memories in that home,” the 60-year-old nurse said. “My heart is just broken that this happened.”
The home’s current renters, Marcus “Marco” Kauffman and his wife, Maryann, were returning from a Thanksgiving weekend trip when a burglar shot Marcus Kauffman, investigators said.
Something didn’t seem right to Kauffman when the couple neared the home shortly before 10:30 a.m. Monday, so he dropped his wife off at a neighbor’s house before going to his home, investigators said.
A short time later, sheriff’s deputies said, someone called 911 and reported his home was being burglarized and then said shots were being fired. After that, the call was cut off.
According to friends, Maryann Kauffman heard shots fired and tried calling her husband but got no answer.
Deputies found Kauffman inside his 2004 Acura, which had crashed into a tree next to the house. Kauffman was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. When investigators went inside the house, they discovered that it had been broken into and a number of items had been stolen.
Kauffman underwent surgery Monday night at Carolinas Medical Center. He was listed in critical condition Tuesday, according to the sheriff’s office.
The Salisbury Post reported that friends said Kauffman’s wife is a few months pregnant.
$5,000 reward offered
The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said it is looking for clues and hoping the public can help investigators identify a suspect in the case. On Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office announced it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Capt. John Sifford of the Sheriff’s Office said investigators are asking anyone who saw vehicles in the area between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to contact them. He said they especially are interested in a teal or blue car, possibly a Pontiac.
A friend of Kauffman’s told WCNC-TV that Marcus and Maryann were married in 2012 and that Marcus Kauffman is a former firefighter with the Scotch Irish Volunteer Fire Department in western Rowan County. Friends and family said he is active in church ministry and in community groups.
Five area schools – Cleveland, Mount Ulla and Woodleaf elementary schools, West Rowan Middle and West Rowan High – were put on lockdown for several hours Monday morning while deputies searched for a suspect.
Neighbor Daniel Troyer stopped in front of the home on Tuesday before driving his wife and children to the hospital to visit Kauffman. “We’ve felt very safe,” Troyer said. “We’ve lived here for 71/2 years.”
‘We paid attention’
Binkley said she couldn’t recall any break-ins or other crime in her 30 years living there, but folks always remained alert to unknown vehicles, she said.
“Nobody was nosy, but we paid attention to anything unusual,” Binkley said outside the home. Two sheriff’s investigators were at the home, and one fed a bowl of water to the Kauffmans’ dog, which was tied in the yard and wagging its tail.
But Binkley remembered that a 10- to 12-foot-tall wooden sign had been posted along the road on the edge of the property. The sign depicted a burglar and gave a phone number for the sheriff’s office.
“Warning,” the sign said. “Neighborhood Watch Community. We help prevent burglaries.”
On Tuesday, Binkley walked over to a row of tall Leyland cypress she’d planted many years ago as saplings. The sign still stands, now masked by the trees.
Anyone with information in the case is asked to contact the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office at 704-216-8687 or 704-216-8683.
Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @ jmarusak