Violent Rockford rampage leaves four dead, seven injured, many questions

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

: Christian Ivan Soto (Photo courtesy Winnebago County Sheriff)

Residents in several southeast Rockford neighborhoods are reeling emotionally after a 22-year old Rockford man went berserk the afternoon of March 27 and attacked more than a dozen people with a knife, a bat and his pickup truck.

Christian Ivan Soto faces multiple murder charges after a horrendously violent rampage that killed four people and injured seven others. Soto, who is being held without bond in the Winnebago County Jail, is charged with 11 counts of murder with intent to kill or injure and two counts of home invasion.

He is scheduled to be back in court on Tuesday morning, April 2.

Soto’s rampage started on the 2300 block of Holmes Street at the home of a friend, Jacob Schupbach, where he’d gone to smoke pot. He told police that he believes the pot was laced with an unknown drug that caused him to become paranoid. Investigators say he went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and stabbed both Jacob, 23, and his mother Ramona, 63, to death.

Police say witnesses saw Soto chase Jacob across the street before stabbing him and then running him over with his pickup truck.

Soto then went to the 2200 block of Winnetka Avenue where he attacked mailman Jay Larson, stabbing him multiple times, then running him over with his truck. Larson, 49, died a short time later at the hospital.

Soto then drove to homes on three different blocks — the 4800 and 4700 blocks of Cleveland Avenue, and the 4600 block of Florence Street — where he violently entered the homes and attacked residents. In the incident on the 4700 blocks of Cleveland, Soto attacked three teenage girls. Fifteen-year-old Jenna Newcomb reportedly died after being beaten with a bat while trying to defend her sister, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said at a press conference.

Soto was finally taken into custody by police responding to the home invasion in the 4600 block of Florence, after he attacked a woman and a good Samaritan who was passing by who attempted to help her. Both victims were hospitalized with serious injuries.

City officials said four other victims were treated and released on Thursday.

Soto’s only prior criminal charge besides several traffic violations was a 2022 criminal damage to property conviction, for which he was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.

While Soto reportedly told police he became paranoid after smoking adulterated marijuana, a distinctly different explanation for Soto’s unhinged emotional state is suggested in a report on Chicago’s ABC News 7. Records obtained by ABC7’s investigative team disclosed that Soto “was required to pay that ($2,000) restitution by Thursday, March 28, and that the murder rampage occurred less than 24 hours before the money was due.”

Court records, ABC7 noted, indicated that the money “may have been transferred over from the bond (Soto) posted …”

While noting that there are more questions than answers at the moment, Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley also seemed to suggest that Soto’s contention that adulterated marijuana caused his violence may not be the real story.

Soto, he said, was “saying that he smoked marijuana that may have been laced, and that’s what he discussed. There also seems to be a real consciousness of what he did, that he was conscious. So, I don’t really have a good answer for that.”

“Today, we are shocked by another horrific act of violence against innocent members of our community,” McNamara said in a statement. “Now that (Soto) is in custody, our primary concern is ensuring that our community members directly impacted by this violence are supported throughout their healing and recovery.”

President Joe Biden expressed his sympathy for the victims and said that federal law enforcement is providing assistance to local law enforcement as they investigate the numerous crimes Soto is alleged to have committed.

Authorities have asked that anyone with additional information or surveillance footage contact Rockford police at 815-966-2900. Anonymous tips can be sent to 815-963-7867.