Stephen Mingham was a loving husband and father, a friendly neighbor willing to help when needed. But a series of family problems left him overwhelmed, and that apparently led to tragedy.
Authorities say Mingham fatally shot his wife and two adult children before turning the gun on himself at his east Modesto home Thursday evening.
“I assumed Steve reached his point,” said Joe Mingham, trying explain the personal turmoil that weighed on his brother.
Stephen Mingham called his brother shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday. “He said, ‘I just killed Jan. Nicole and Chad,’” Joe Mingham said. Stephen Mingham then said he was going to kill himself.
Before Joe Mingham had a chance to respond, his brother hung up the phone. “I immediately called 911,” Joe Mingham said.
While he was calling for help, Stephen Mingham had also called 911, saying he had killed his family. He committed suicide shortly afterward.
Nicole Mingham, 34, initially survived the shooting but died several hours later at a Modesto hospital.
Joe Mingham saw his niece at the hospital before she died. “All we could do is comfort her.” She died shortly before 7:30 a.m. Friday.
Stephen’s wife, Janet Mingham, 56, and their son, Chad Mingham, 33, were pronounced dead at the scene, along with Stephen, 57.
Joe Mingham said he didn’t want to portray his brother as a bad person, but he wanted to be truthful about the trouble the family had leading up to the shocking outcome.
Stephen had retired as a woodshop teacher from Roosevelt Junior High in Modesto, where his wife also worked. He would occasionally take carpentry work. But most of his time was spent caring for his daughter.
Nicole Mingham had earned a degree in business administration from California State University, Stanislaus about seven years ago.
She later was hired in a supervisory position at Gallo Glass Plant in Modesto, and bought a two-story house about four blocks from her parents’ home. She had excelled and her life was good until she developed an infection in her gallbladder.
A complication during surgery injured her liver and resulted in a severe infection that an aggressive treatment of antibiotics couldn’t help. Nicole slipped into a coma for four months, and three-quarters of her liver had to be removed.
Joe Mingham said his niece had suffered a brain injury so severe that she had the mental capacity of a 4-year-old child. She couldn’t work anymore, and she lost her home to foreclosure, Joe Mingham said. She moved in with her parents, who became her primary caregivers.
“This weighed really heavily on my brother,” Joe Mingham said. “He devoted his entire time to caring for her.”
His described Jan Mingham as a caring mother who also took on some of the responsibility of taking care of Nicole.
Chad Mingham’s troubled life led him to incarceration. Joe Mingham said his nephew had a history of drug sales and theft, once stealing guns from his own dad.
Chad was recently released from prison and returned to live with his parents. “It devastated my brother,” Joe Mingham said.
The issues the Mingham children were facing resulted in marital problems for their parents. “I could tell there was tension between Steve and his wife,” Joe Mingham said.
But he had visited his brother on Christmas Day, and everything seemed to be fine. Stephen Mingham cooked a prime rib dinner. The family gathered around the table and said a prayer before sharing their traditional holiday meal.
It was more evident that the family’s troubles were creating a strain when Joe Mingham visited his brother on New Year’s Eve. He couldn’t tell by looking at his brother, who most of the time had a “happy-go-lucky” attitude. But he could tell there was something wrong by looking at his sister-in-law and his nephew as the family took down their holiday decorations.
He confronted his brother, telling him that they can find he and his family some help to cope with their problems. But Stephen Mingham told his brother there was nothing wrong.
“He couldn’t accept help, he was so proud,” Joe Mingham said. As he spoke, he sat in the back of a pickup outside his brother’s home in a residential neighborhood to the south of Floyd Avenue and west of Oakdale Road.
Neighbors who knew the family were shocked. They said they never before heard or seen a family disturbance at the Mingham home. The core group of longtime residents got along with the Minghams, especially Stephen.
“I never heard a gunshot (Thursday), and I was right here watching TV,” said Ann Cathcart, who lives next door.
She said Chad Mingham would wheel her garbage cans to the curb, and his dad recently helped her find a repairman to fix her garage.
The neighbors said Stephen had lost a lot of weight after undergoing gastric bypass surgery. He was routinely outdoors, helping neighbors or smoking a cigar on his front porch. Stephen called the white picket fenced porch his “playpen,” sometimes inviting neighbors over for a beer.
Dennis and Terri Dugal said the Minghams were great neighbors. Stephen Mingham helped Dennis install a ceiling fan. “He was definitely a handyman,” Dennis Dugal said.
Anni Lamanet said her husband heard “pop, pop,pop” Thursday night from their home across the street, but she thought it was just car doors slamming shut. She said Janet worked a lot, and she was a very sweet lady. “She loved to take care of her front yard,” Lamanet said, wiping away tears.
Janet Mingham, who was also known as “Jan,” worked as a secretary for the principal at Roosevelt Junior High. The school’s principal on Friday morning notified Modesto City Schools district officials that his secretary’s family was involved in the deadly shooting.
“We are shocked and devastated by this horrific event,” said district Superintendent Pam Able. “Jan was a longtime Modesto City Schools employee and was beloved by Roosevelt staff and students.”
Stan Hightower would chat with neighbor Stephen Mingham a lot, and he knew the family was experiencing problems. He said Stephen Mingham had a short temper and would abruptly head out on camping trips to escape his problems.
“They’ve been arguing about money,” Hightower said.
Joe Mingham said he didn’t know about his brother’s finances, but he had heard they were dealing with bankruptcy. Stephen Mingham had recently bought his wife a black Chrysler 200. The car was parked in the family’s driveway Friday.
Hightower said Stephen Mingham told him that he might one day “blow up,” but Hightower didn’t take it seriously.
“I told him to hold it together, to look to the Bible ... I didn’t think it would go that far.”
Bee staff writer Nan Austin and Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra contributed to this report.