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Two Charged In Murder Of Mother, Kids, Partner In Troy, New York

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Troy Police Department via NBC News Troy Police Department via NBC News

TROY, Ny. (NBC NEWS) -  One of two suspects arrested in connection with the brutal murders last week of a mother, two of her children and her female partner in upstate New York was "acquainted" with one of the victims, police said Saturday.

Troy police Capt. Daniel DeWolf said investigators were still searching for a motive for the killings, and didn't specify which of the suspects — James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24 — knew which victim or their exact relationship.

Both men, from nearby Schenectady, were apprehended Friday night and arraigned Saturday on one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder during a packed hearing. They pleaded not guilty.

James White and Justin Mann of Schenectady, New York. Courtesy Troy Police Department

Police did not detail how they caught the suspects, but said they were taken into custody "without incident" and were being held in the Rensselaer County Jail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Jan. 4.

At a news conference Saturday, DeWolf confirmed that the victims were killed late in the evening on Dec. 21, but their bodies weren't found until Dec. 26. The reason for the lag wasn't clear. DeWolf added that Mann had been on parole and that both he and White have a criminal history.

"We feel confident at this point that there will be no further arrests, but it is certainly open as we continue" the investigation, Troy Police Chief John Tedesco told reporters.

The bodies of Shanta Myers, 36, her 11-year-old son Jeremiah and her 5-year-old daughter Shanise, and 22-year-old Brandi Mells were found in their basement apartment in Troy the day after Christmas. Myers had a 15-year-old son who was out of town on a retreat at the time of the murders.

DeWolf previously declined to discuss details of the crime scene, but law enforcement sources told the Albany Times Union that the victims were bound and their throats were slit.

"I don't need to tell you how good it feels to have these two defendants in custody," DeWolf said Saturday.

Family members of the victims sat in the courtroom to watch the suspects get charged, reported NBC affiliate WNYT.

"After being in this business for almost 42 years I can't describe the savagery of a person like this," Tedesco said earlier this week as police searched for those responsible.

Myers' family described her as a good-natured woman who could not have done anything to provoke such violence.

"She is so sweet," her sister, Shakera Symes, told NBC News. "She goes out of her way to want to be loved. She wouldn't be involved in anything that would be close to deserving this. She's very mild-mannered."

Myers' big joy was cooking for family gatherings. "She always had one of the biggest dishes. You would see her out there frying up empanadas," Symes said.

"She just loved to be included in family events, but over the last year, she kind of isolated herself as she got into a relationship," she added.

Mells was originally from Newark, New Jersey, but moved to upstate New York as a teenager, said close friend Dria Hector. She was living in Troy with her mother when she met Myers.

"She was a little person but her heart was bigger than she was," Hector said of Mells, who had dwarfism. "She was very real, she spoke the truth. She was a sweet person, but she could have her bad days, like we all do."

Hector said she met Myers' youngest child a few months ago and recalled how the 5-year-old played with and tried to feed her own 2-year-old daughter.

"She was so, so sweet," she said. "She had a big personality."

Jeremiah, who was known as JJ, was involved in the Boys and Girls Club in Troy, where he took part in the after-school program and played on the basketball team.

"He was such a radiant kid that everybody knew him," said Hollyanne Buntich, human resources director for the club, which has started a fundraising campaignfor the family. "He was a ray of sunshine."

Symes said she expected to hear from Jeremiah on Dec. 22 because he usually called her to chat when he didn't have school. But the call never came, and the family never showed up at her house for Christmas, as expected.

Then came the terrible news the following day.

"I can't understand why somebody wanted to do something like that," Symes said.

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