As authorities hunted the man charged in the fatal stabbing of a Berlin Township woman, friends of the victim and even a state gun rights group weighed in Friday, saying the system had failed to protect Carol Bowne.
"In my opinion, the police failed her," said friend Colette Marino-Quinones, noting that the suspect, a boyfriend from whom Bowne was estranged, had not been effectively pursued after he violated a restraining order a month before Wednesday's attack. "Other people had spotted him but the police never did, and I find that interesting," she said.
Bowne had also applied for a handgun license, a process that can be cumbersome in New Jersey, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Marino-Quinones said her friend used her as a reference months ago in applying for the document.
Bowne, she said, had completed the application and was waiting for police to process her fingerprints.
Scott Bach, executive director of the National Rifle Association-affiliated Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, criticized the state for what he called an "antiquated, outdated" gun licensing system. Bach said the process is overly complicated. Citing common delays, he said Bowne's application probably was "languishing" in the system.
"This woman did not have to die," Bach said Friday. "The State of New Jersey prevented her from having a fighting chance."
An advocate for tighter gun laws cautioned, however, that a gun is not always the right answer.
Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God's Call, a gun control advocacy group, said that while he could not speak specifically to the Bowne case, "there's no such thing as a uniform rule for everything."
He pointed to research suggesting that guns often put their owners in more danger, especially in the case of women, who are more likely than men to have their guns taken and used against them.
Berlin Township Police Chief Leonard Check declined to comment on criticism of his department's handling of the restraining order, saying the investigation was still active.
Michael Eitel, 45, of Berlin Township, has been charged with first-degree murder in Bowne's death.
She was slain outside her home late Wednesday, and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office issued a warrant for his arrest Thursday.
Bowne suffered multiple stab wounds in the attack and was pronounced dead at Virtua Hospital in Berlin.
Authorities said Bowne, 39, a hairstylist who had worked for 20 years at O'hara & Co. salon in Somerdale, had an active restraining order against Eitel.
Eitel, also a Berlin Township resident, worked as an exterminator. According to official records, he pleaded guilty to a weapons offense in 2008 after being indicted in 2006 on a charge of aggravated assault with bodily injury. In 2009, he was sentenced to a five-year term. It was not known how much time he served.
He started dating Bowne soon after her husband, Roy, a welder, died in a motorcycle accident.
Marino-Quinones, who works as a stylist at another Somerdale salon, praised Bowne's husband, calling him someone who "loved people for who they were."
Eitel, who was a friend of Bowne's husband, originally acted protectively toward Bowne, but his behavior soon turned paranoid, Marino-Quinones said. "He was the worst predator of her life," she said.
Marino-Quinones said she became concerned over Eitel's treatment of Bowne about a year and a half after the relationship began. She said he threw stones at Bowne's window and scratched her car with a key. But she said she did not expect his actions to escalate as they did.
"I didn't think he would go from sophomoric pranks to murder," she said.
To protect herself, Bowne had installed multiple alarm systems at her home.
To purchase a handgun in New Jersey, applicants must submit forms, obtain references, get their fingerprints verified, and undergo background checks.
A decision is supposed to be made within 30 days after the application is completed, but typically the process takes much longer, Bach said.
A fugitive task force headed by the U.S. Marshals Service is hunting for Eitel, and authorities offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
They said Eitel stands 6-foot-3, weighs 265 pounds, and is considered armed and dangerous. Anyone with information can call Detective Matt McKeown of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office at 856-964-4759 or e-mail email@example.com.