Murder suspect still at large

IRONDALE – Law enforcement combed Irondale and surrounding areas searching for the suspect in a fatal shooting in the village Thursday.

Assistant Prosecutor Frank Bruzzese issued an arrest warrant for 38-year-old Michael Mitchell, 998 County Road 50, Irondale, in connection with the death of Maria Cantwell, 38, which has been ruled a homicide.

The shooting is believed to have occurred sometime after 3 a.m. Thursday in the house on County Road 50, which Mitchell shared with Cantwell and her three daughters. Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla says the three girls, ranging in age from 10 to 14 years old, were home when the shooting took place and are likely the last people to have seen Mitchell before he disappeared.

The middle child, a 13-year-old, discovered Cantwell’s body shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday, according to Abdalla. There were no physical signs of a struggle and no other injuries to Cantwell.

None of the three girls were harmed, Abdalla says, though he acknowledged the psychological trauma of the situation for them. “It’s sad that the children had to find their mother in the condition she was in,” he said.

Cantwell was found with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the right side of her head, though the sheriff says an X-ray performed by Debbie Welsh of the Jefferson County coroner’s office was necessary to confirm it due to the small caliber of the weapon used.

Saline Township Police Chief Clifford Utt said his officers have been called to the house before, though never for any serious matters or domestic violence issues. “We’ve responded here for minor calls in the past, but nothing of this extent,” Utt said.

Mitchell remained at large as of Thursday night, although Abdalla says Mitchell is known to have family members in Columbiana County. A nationwide alert has been posted to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, and the U.S. Marshal’s Office has been contacted to assist with the hunt for Mitchell. “We’re trying to track him down at locations outside of this area right here,” Abdalla said.

Mitchell is described as a white male approximately 5 feet, 10 inches tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. According to Abdalla, the suspect is known to carry firearms, has a concealed carry permit, and should be considered armed and dangerous.

The sheriff’s voice cracked with emotion as he added, “When you could shoot somebody and kill somebody with that person’s three children in the house, I consider him armed and dangerous.”

Abdalla suggested that anyone who may be harboring Mitchell or know of his whereabouts to contact his office or township police immediately. He also suggested that Mitchell turn himself in and “answer for what he’s done.”