Russell Heller, 51, a Republican representing the Milford area, was found dead just after 7 a.m. in the parking lot of PSE&G, the energy company where he worked, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said.
Authorities quickly determined that a former employee of PSE&G, identified as Gary T. Curtis, 58, of Washington, had approached Heller in the parking lot and shot him outside his vehicle, the prosecutor’s office said.
Detectives were able to track Curtis down hours later to a parking lot area in Bridgewater Township, where they found him with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, it said. Curtis, who was in possession of a firearm at the time, was pronounced dead shortly after.
Detectives are still working to establish a motive in the incident, the prosecutor’s office said.
Heller’s death comes a week after Eunice Dwumfour, a fellow Republican who had represented Sayreville, was found fatally shot in her vehicle near her home. Police have yet to identify a potential suspect or motive in her death.
Sayreville is around 55 miles east of Milford.
Authorities have not made any connections between the two incidents, with the prosecutor’s office saying Heller’s death appeared to be an “isolated incident.”
“We are heartbroken at the tragic death of Russell Heller,” PSE&G said in a statement shared online.
The company said Heller had worked as a senior distribution supervisor and had been with the firm for more than 11 years.
“Russell was an admired employee,” it said. “He will be sorely missed by all and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.” PSE&G said it was cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation into the incident.
Tributes for Heller poured in in the hours after his death, with Gov. Phil Murphy writing on Twitter: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Russell Heller’s family and friends in the wake of this tragic act of gun violence.”
“I am shocked and saddened by the tragic murder of Milford Councilman Russell Heller,” Republican state Rep. Tom Kean Jr. said. “Russell was an outstanding public servant who proudly represented the river town he loved. My prayers are with his family and the Milford community.”
Zachary T. Rich, the director of the Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners, called the shooting “senseless” and described Heller as “a dedicated and valuable member of the Milford and Hunterdon County community whose leadership and commitment will be sorely missed.”
He added: “More importantly, however, Russell was a loving and caring father to his daughter and a dedicated and loyal friend to all of those who had the pleasure of knowing him. We join our colleagues in Milford in offering our most sincere heartfelt condolences to the Heller Family at this unimaginably difficult time for their tragic loss.”