Janet Pearson returned to her home Saturday morning after finishing the third shift at Lancaster General Hospital to find the horrific site of a mass of police and ambulances in her neighborhood.
Not knowing what happened, Pearson approached the 12-year-old son of her neighbors, Robert and Tonya Potter. The boy appeared dazed and traumatized, tears streaming down his face.
Pearson began to hug him in the middle of East Orange Street in Lancaster Township as he repeated himself over and over again: "All he kept saying to me was that they were both gone, they're both gone," Pearson said.
"I knew that something was really wrong, but I had no idea what he was talking about."
City police said Monday they were investigating a case of domestic violence that might have led to the death of Robert Potter. The death was ruled a homicide, but no charges had been filed as of Monday night.
Robert Potter, 48, of the 1200 block of East Orange Street, was found unresponsive on the floor of his home 38 minutes after police responded to a 7:49 a.m. domestic disturbance call that he was being attacked by his wife, Tonya, 41.
According to police, Tonya Potter was taken to Lancaster General Hospital about 8:15 a.m. Saturday for a psychiatric evaluation after she allegedly attacked her husband with a cooking fork and a baseball bat.
An autopsy Sunday determined Robert Potter died of cardiac dysrhythmia caused by multiple traumatic injuries sustained during the domestic disturbance. Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni ruled the death a homicide.
Diamantoni said that there were superficial wounds to the victim's back from the fork, but Robert Potter's fibrosis of the heart — an indication of prior heart disease — was a primary factor in his death.
"Certainly an attack of any type, particularly an attack of this magnitude, would cause an outpouring of adrenaline," Diamantoni said. "And that outpouring of adrenaline would make any heart — but particularly a heart that is previously damaged from disease — susceptible to heart arrhythmia."
According to police, Robert Potter called Lancaster County dispatch at 7:49 a.m. and said that he was being assaulted by his wife.
He told emergency dispatchers that she had a mental-health disorder and was not taking her medicine, police said. He also said that she was being violent, wrecking the house, threatening him with a cooking fork and a baseball bat and kicking and scratching him.
Lancaster police and emergency medical services arrived at the home and observed that Tonya Potter was not clothed, was incoherent and manic, according to police. The interior of the house was in disarray, police said.
Officers took her into custody for a psychiatric evaluation.
Prior to leaving, emergency crews asked Robert Potter if he wanted treatment for his wounds. Police said he told them he did not need treatment, and they left at 8:12 a.m.
According to police, seven minutes later county dispatchers received a phone call from a neighbor who said that a distraught boy had come to her house and told her that his father was on the floor dead inside the East Orange Street home.
Lancaster city officers arrived at 8:27 a.m. and found Robert Potter lying on the floor unresponsive. Police and EMTs attempted CPR, and he was taken to Lancaster General.
While at the house, police observed a pronged cooking fork with bent prongs on the kitchen counter.
At the hospital, Robert Potter was declared dead. Police said a doctor told them it appeared preliminarily that Potter had suffered a heart attack and may have hit his head as he fell.
Police on Monday night said Tonya Potter was still being held at the hospital for observation and the district attorney's office was discussing charges.