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Lawrence police officers and detectives on the scene of a homicide and suicide at 44 Beacon St.

LAWRENCE — Neighbors started to worry about Joseph Domurat and his wife, Noreen, when they didn't see one of them walking their Great Dane for several days. The day-old snow that hadn't been cleared off the windshield of the couple's Mercedes was another tip that something was wrong.

Shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday a "well-being check" at the small Cape-style stucco house at 44 Beacon St. ended in the grisly discovery that police are calling "a murder-suicide" by Joseph Domurat, 61. His body was found on top of the couple's bed, with an automatic handgun still in his hand.

Noreen Domurat, 57, lay dead in bed underneath the covers. Police found the dog dead in the kitchen with a bullet wound.

"I'm afraid we may never know what triggered this tragic event," Lawrence police Chief John Romero said last night in the aftermath of the city's second homicide of the year.

"We believe he shot his wife, who was in bed already, then laid down next to her and took his own life. At some point, he killed the dog, too. At least, that's what the evidence seems to show at the point," the chief said.

In more than nine years as chief, Romero said, he couldn't recall another homicide in the city's Mount Vernon section, an area bordering Andover that features neighborhoods of mostly single-family homes on quiet streets.

The chief said he did not think that the best law enforcement available could have prevented the Beacon Street shooting.

Police think the couple had lived in their home for more than 25 years. A review of Lawrence Police Department records revealed no prior incidents at that address.

"There was nothing to lead police or neighbors to believe there was a problem between the couple," Romero said yesterday.

"It appeared to everyone, including friends, that there were no issues. Neighbors weren't aware of any kind of problems, financial, or otherwise. I'm sure, over the course of the next week or so, more will come to light as the investigation continues. But right now, we're lost to explain how something like this happened," the chief said.

Lawrence police detectives, joined by Massachusetts State Police assigned to District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett's office, filled the Domurat house last night as a yellow crime-scene tape blocked off the front yard in front of the house.

Police called in a volunteer from the Trauma Intervention Program of the Merrimack Valley to assist in comforting family members, who were being notified of the couple's death.

A "Beware of The Dog" sign was visible in a window near a side entrance to the home. There were also two miniature American flags crossing in another window.

Lawrence police entered the home after the Lawrence Fire Department was called to force open the door. The radio was still on.

Most of the neighbors who live near the Domurats got upset and refused to talk when approached by a reporter.

Fidela Pichardo, who lives in the yellow house next door at 40 Beacon St., said she had just seen Noreen walking the dog Thursday.

"They were nice, quiet people who I've known since I moved here 10 years ago," Pichardo said.

"We'd always say 'hi' and talk to them when they were out in the yard. She'd walk the dog. And I see him almost every morning. We're going to miss them," she said.

Pichardo recalled that Domurat had an antique car that he liked to take out in the summer.

"They used to spend time out in the yard. And I would give them tomatoes and eggplants from my garden. They were good people," she said.

The city's first murder occurred in late January when Luis Alcantara, 28, of 66 Saunders St. was gunned down in La Bahia Restaurant at 15 Newbury St. Richard Figuero was charged in that shooting after police found him hiding under a bed in a Salem Street home.

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