Pennsauken physician victim in alleged murder-suicide
Around 10 Tuesday morning, Debra Dippold stopped by her doctor's office in Pennsauken to pick up a prescription. On an impulse, she brought flowers.
"Something told me to bring flowers. Something, God, I guess," Dippold, 56, said of the $25 bouquet.
Michelle E. Liggio, 47, a family practitioner, was busy with patients and Dippold didn't get to see her. Liggio's husband, Christopher, was sitting at a computer, Dippold recalled.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., the busy but tranquil scene was shattered. Christopher Liggio allegedly shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and Pennsauken police said.
According to a law enforcement source, employees told police they heard Michelle Liggio pleading, "No, no, no," and then a series of gunshots.
A motive was unclear, but law enforcement sources said Michelle Liggio had recently filed for divorce from her husband. The couple lived in Mount Laurel; they had two sons, neighbors and patients said.
As word spread of the alleged murder-suicide, the doctor's patients flocked to the practice on Maple Avenue. Some gasped as they stood in the drizzle; others exchanged warm recollections of her.
Some of the patients left flowers. Others wondered where they would find another doctor like Liggio.
"On Friday, I told her, I feel like we're best friends," said Dippold, who along with her husband had a standing once-a-month appointment.
Patients said Liggio was a dedicated family physician who cared deeply for them. She "always stayed on me" to get regular mammograms, said Vicki Moreland, 46, of Moorestown, a patient for nearly a decade.
Nancy Turner of Pennsauken said that when a blood test showed she was diabetic, Liggio called her the next day and said: "You better get your tail feathers in here and get some medicine."
She added: "I'm sorry that Pennsauken lost a heck of a doctor."
The shooting occurred at the practice in the 7600 block of Maple Avenue as Pennsauken police were responding to a report of a disturbance called in by an employee.
The shooting apparently happened moments after the dispute began, the Prosecutor's Office said.
No patients were in the office and employees were upstairs from where the couple was, said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman with the Prosecutor's Office.
Police, bearing bulletproof shields, quickly set up a perimeter in the commercial corridor, where homes are mingled with office buildings and restaurants.
James Strong, general manager of the Tortilla Press Cantina across the street, said the shots could be heard in the restaurant. Police arrived and moved diners away from the windows, he said.
"It became frantic," Strong said. "It was surreal."
The Liggios lived in a two-story, cream-colored house with red shutters and an attached three-car garage. Relatives and investigators streamed in and out of the house Tuesday.
Michelle Liggio graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 1993, state records show. In addition to her practice, records show Liggio was affiliated with numerous hospitals, including Kennedy University Hospital-Cherry Hill and Virtua Marlton.
According to tax records, the couple owned the two-story building where the practice had offices, across from a strip mall.
"She was so pleasant," said Moneke Ragsdale of Camden, a patient.
Ragsdale said her family has been going to the practice for decades, before Liggio took over from Richard N. Wells. Ragsdale said her 14-year-old son played in a community league with the Liggios' son.
Neighbors and patients said the couple's sons were a teenager and a college student.
"She had pictures of them in the office," Ragsdale said. "It's so sad."
Patients said Wells operated the family practice for decades before partnering with Liggio and then retiring about seven years ago.
Wells could not be reached Tuesday.
Christopher Liggio was a landscaper, neighbors in Mount Laurel said. Some of his wife's patients said he also worked at the practice.
"He painted the whole office, beautiful, all the rooms are different colors," said Cindy Fulton, 58, of Cherry Hill, who rushed to the scene when she heard there was a shooting at a doctor's office on Maple Avenue.
Phyllis Sternberg, who lives across from the Liggios on Brookwood Road, expressed shock, saying the couple seemed to have a good marriage and Christopher Liggio was her landscaper.
She recalled him as a kind man who once shoveled snow from her property without charging her.
Tuesday afternoon, Dippold and her 38-year-old daughter - a patient since she was a year old - walked across Maple Avenue to the same florist where Dippold had picked up the bouquet earlier.
She said she paid $10 for a second bouquet and left it on the doorstep of Liggio's office.
"Thirty-five dollars in flowers for my love today," she said.
Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.