A father suspected of abducting his 2-year-old son and fleeing Long Island for Virginia have been found dead in a murder-suicide following a bitter custody fight. During the ordeal, authorities refused to issue an Amber Alert and waited over six hours to inform the public and solicit their help.
The bodies, identified by Rockbridge County sheriff’s deputies, match the identities of John and Jovani Ligurgo. They were found in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been set alight behind a residence. Suffolk County police have not confirmed the identity or either Jovani or his father John.
Ligurgo, 43, took Jovani and fled Long Island Tuesday after starting a fire in the bedroom of his condo, according to police. Maria Busone, Jovani’s mother, alerted police when Ligurgo did not show up to return Jovani to her home as required by a court-ordered visitation order. Four hours later, Ligurgo’s Jeep was seen crossing the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.
The pair were discovered in Raphine, central Virginia, around 8:45 a.m. local time Wednesday. Firefighters were alerted to a burning vehicle, and sheriff’s deputies ran the license plate through a recognition database, which was matched to an advisory sent to local law enforcement. Ligurgo did not have any apparently connections in Raphine or the area in general. “It’s like a nightmare. It’s heartbreaking.
This poor baby hasn’t even gotten a chance to live.” said Jovani’s aunt, Jackie Pulizzi, to press at the scene. She described how Jovani was just starting to talk, and what kind of cartoons he liked. “PJ Masks” and “Wallykazam” were his favorites, when he wasn’t playing with his cousins or his 26-year-old half-brother, who cried when the bodies were discovered.
Pulizzi, Busone’s sister, said Busone was in the process of petitioning for full custody of Jovani. She wanted Ligurgo to be drug tested and undergo a psychological exam as conditions of his visitation. A hearing was scheduled only a day after Ligurgo killed Jovani and himself. Busone filed the petition when deciding to end the “toxic” relationship between her and Ligurgo after three years.
Ligurgo was recently fired from his job for smoking marijuana at work, and was described as selfish, abusive, and controlling towards Busone. Her family feared for their safety. “He was not interested in working anything out,” Pulizzi said. “His thought process was, ‘If I can’t have him, nobody can.’ No man of rational thinking does that.”
Suffolk County police requested that state authorities issue an Amber Alert after Jovani’s abduction, but a state police spokesperson said information provided at the time failed to meet the criteria for an alert. Amber Alerts are only issued if a child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, and Ligurgo’s clean record and lack of documented history of violence failed to meet that threshold. Jovani’s family said Ligurgo’s unstable behavior should have been reason enough.
Instead, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the department issued an advisory including descriptions of Jovani, Ligurgo, and the Jeep to a national alert system. Police began investigating the case as a missing person’s inquiry after they had connected Jovani’s disappearance to the fire, and waited a day later to inform the public. “We were gathering the facts of the case, we were reaching out to our law enforcement partners and then the determination was made to reach out to the media,” Hart said.
“The totality of the circumstances indicated this could be serious,” Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante told the press. “He could have turned up in a hotel room and drove back today, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”