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Police doing welfare check stumble upon marijuana grow operation, suicide and human remains

PLEASANT MOUNT, Pa. — Officers checking on the welfare of a resident stumbled upon a possible homicide, an apparent suicide and a large-scale marijuana growing operation, authorities said.

State police in Lackawanna County said officers went Monday morning to a home in Mount Pleasant Township in the northeastern corner of the state, to find property owner Joseph Mastropole after a woman in New York called with concerns about his welfare.

Police spokesman Mark Keyes said a man at the door gave them a false name, said he was a roommate and hadn’t seen the 54-year-old Mastropole. On a second visit, police saw a barn with signs of a lot of ventilation and smelled a strong odour of marijuana, so they came back shortly before 3:30 p.m. Monday with a warrant. Knocking on the door of the home, they heard a gunshot and called for a special tactical unit, which later entered and found the body of 57-year-old Gaston Gomez, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In the barn, police found more than 100 marijuana plants and a smouldering burn barrel containing suspected remains which a forensic specialist said appeared to be human. More remains were found in the house, and an autopsy is scheduled Wednesday. Investigators are trying to determine whether the remains are those of one person or more, what was the cause of death and whether any of the remains are those of Mastropole, who is considered missing, Keyes said.

Keyes said it’s unclear what Gomez was doing at the home or what his relationship was, if any, with the homeowner. Investigators travelled to New York to interview the woman who called with concerns about Mastropole, whose picture was being distributed, along with a plea for anyone who knows him or Gomez to contact investigators.

“It kind of shows the dangers police walk into,” Keyes said. “They go to do a welfare check and wind up with a (possible) homicide and suicide.”


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