WINTHROP — Andrew Balcer was known as a quiet kid who threw shot put, loved microscopes and interacted with friends on the messaging app Snapchat.

He was close with his mother, known to friends as Ali, going on runs with her and joining her, an assistant veterinarian, as she worked with animals. A photo posted in September on her Facebook page shows her and Andrew standing side by side after a run, wearing race bibs, arms wrapped around each other. She’s looking up at her son with a bright, beaming smile as he looks ahead at the camera with a closed-mouth half-smile.

To his peers, Andrew could be pleasant and respectful. At Winthrop High School, he was a senior with a reputation for good grades and behavior, recalled as an “academically superior student” by the school superintendent.

But he could also be distant, even rude. This past summer, some of his classmates at Winthrop High School didn’t know what to think when Andrew sent out a series of “eerie” Facebook messages apologizing for anything he had done to offend them and vowing to be a better person.

And when news spread Monday evening that the 17-year-old had been arrested and charged in the slayings of his parents — Antonio “Tony” Balcer and Alice “Ali” Balcer, both 47 — many in the Winthrop area were jarred.

“It’s shocking,” Mary Sheridan, a doctor at Winthrop Veterinary Hospital who knew the boy and worked with his mother, said in an interview Tuesday morning. “It doesn’t make any sense. They were a close family.”

Sheridan made the comments shortly before entering the Balcers’ property on Pine Knolls Road to retrieve a dog that belonged to the family.

Winthrop Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Mary Sheridan recalls on Tuesday her colleague Alice Balcer, who was killed early Monday morning with her husband, Antonio, at their Winthrop home. Alice Balcer worked at the clinic with Sheridan, who went to the couple's home to collect a dog.

Winthrop Veterinary Hospital veterinarian Mary Sheridan recalls on Tuesday her colleague Alice Balcer, who was killed early Monday morning with her husband, Antonio, at their Winthrop home. Alice Balcer worked at the clinic with Sheridan, who went to the couple’s home to collect a dog. (Staff photo by Andy Molloy) Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Andrew Balcer made his first court appearance Tuesday at the Capital Judicial Center, where a judge ordered the teenager to undergo a psychological evaluation. The prosecution has requested a hearing that would allow Balcer, who turns 18 next month, to be tried as an adult on two counts of knowing or intentional murder.

A probable cause affidavit that would detail the police account of the allegations — including how Antonio or Alice Balcer were killed — has been be sealed from public viewing.

Police would not say how the couple died because of the ongoing investigation but said their bodies were taken to the state medical examiner’s office and were undergoing autopsies Tuesday.

The Balcers lived at 10 Pine Knoll Road — a white, ranch-style home where a Christmas wreath hung above the garage.

Police were called there shortly before 2 a.m. Monday and found the parents dead in the home. Andrew Balcer has an older brother in his 20s, and both of them were at home when police arrived.

After characterizing the deaths as “highly suspicious” in the morning, police said in the afternoon that they had charged a teenage boy with two counts of homicide.

SCHOOL SHOCK

Neighbors, family members, friends and coworkers of the deceased were all reeling from the news Tuesday morning.

At Winthrop High School, extra counseling services were available to any students or staff members affected by the tragedy.

“I was very surprised,” Corinna Coulton, a senior whose locker was near Balcer’s, said of the news that he had been charged with murder. “He’s very smart, very sweet and polite.”

Speaking after school, Coulton said she visited one of the counselors Tuesday because she was interested in organizing a schoolwide meeting to help dispel the rumors that have been circulating since police first began investigating the deaths on Pine Knoll Road.

“I think a lot of people have a lot of questions,” Coulton said. “Some people seem very scared and concerned. People didn’t expect this from Andrew.”

“It makes you on edge,” said Sarah Spahr, another senior who had a physics class with Balcer and was with Coulton after school Tuesday.

Such concerns have not been limited to the student population, said Gary Rosenthal, superintendent of the Winthrop School District. The district and its staff have weathered multiple tragedies over the years, including the unexpected death of one student, Kelsey Stoneton, from a blood clot in 2014, and a series of suicides by football players in the early 2000s.

“Our staff is very stressed because of this,” Rosenthal said. “We have a very humane group of teachers and staff at our schools. When something like this happens, a lot of them really take it personally because they’ve been in the district a long time. They always think about what they could have done to have more an impact to keep those kinds of things from happening.”

Rosenthal also said that Balcer was, by many accounts, a good student. He was listed on the school honor roll more than once, according to Kennebec Journal archives.

“From what best I know, he was a very good kid, a very good student, an academically superior student,” Rosenthal said. “There were no telltale signs that I know of that would indicate there were any problems, and the family seemed to be well liked, and the mother was very personable. It’s one of those dilemmas you shake your head at.”

State police Detective Sgt. Scott Bryant, left, confers Tuesday with Detective Larry Rose while collecting evidence at the Balcer residence in Winthrop, where 17-year-old Andrew Balcer is accused of killing his parents Antonio and Alice Balcer.

State police Detective Sgt. Scott Bryant, left, confers Tuesday with Detective Larry Rose while collecting evidence at the Balcer residence in Winthrop, where 17-year-old Andrew Balcer is accused of killing his parents Antonio and Alice Balcer. (Staff photo by Andy Molloy) Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Dr. Kathleen Heide, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida who has studied parricide for 30 years, said in a phone interview that murders such as the Winthrop killings, in which a juvenile is accused of murdering both parents, are exceedingly rare, representing fewer than 10 percent of the roughly 250 murders of parents by their offspring reported annually in the nation.

Heide stressed that while she has no specific information about the Winthrop slayings, she said that in most parent-homicide cases, the offenders fall into four categories: the severely abused child, the severely mentally ill child, the dangerously anti-social child and the enraged child. The categories apply to adults who kill their parents and to juveniles who do so.

Severely abused children might kill not out of retaliation, but out of fear or desperation for their own lives or the life of another family member, or out of a desperate sense that killing is the only way out of an abusive situation, which is frequently well documented.

In cases of severe mental illness, offenders typically have a formal diagnosis of mental illness, a loose relationship to reality and often might engage in delusional thinking, believing for instance that the devil is speaking to them or directing their actions. Offenders of this type who kill their parents are most often adults, she said.

The dangerous anti-social offender, on the other hand, kills a parent or parents out of intensely selfish motivations, including murders motivated by money or by the child seeking to gain freedom or privileges that the parents, when alive, would refuse to grant.

“It’s as if the parent is an obstacle and they want to get the parents out of the way,” Heide said.

Antonio and Alice Balcer, both 47, were found dead early Monday in their Winthrop home after police were called to 10 Pine Knoll Road shortly before 2 a.m.

Antonio and Alice Balcer, both 47, were found dead early Monday in their Winthrop home after police were called to 10 Pine Knoll Road shortly before 2 a.m. (Facebook photo) Facebook photo

Enraged offenders kill because of pure rage possibly borne from abuse or neglect, or from other factors, such as the sudden imposition of limitations, or a sharp removal of financial or other types of support. In cases of rage, Heide said the offender is often, but not always, influenced by drugs or alcohol.

She said the two most common defense strategies of juveniles who kill their parents are an insanity defense or a battered child syndrome defense, in which the defense may argue that the killing was the result of years of extended abuse. Both are seriously challenging, and have low chance of succeeding.

“Typically what happens in these cases, the juvenile is almost always prosecuted as an adult, typically charged with murder in the first degree or murder in the second degree, and many times these cases plead out,” Heide said. “Many times they’re convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. So it’s very rare that the juvenile is exonerated.”

AN EERIE MESSAGE

A number of Balcer’s classmates echoed their shock that he could have been charged with such a serious crime, particularly one that involved Alice Balcer.

Brianna McClure, a fellow senior, said she thought he was close to his mother and mentioned that he spent time helping her work with animals.

McClure did not know how Balcer got along with his father.

McClure, like Coulson, also said that Balcer sent a series of Facebook messages to his classmates last summer in which he apologized for past offenses — an act she described as “eerie.”

“He said, ‘Hey, we never got off to a good start, but I’m changing my life this year,'” McClure said. “He used to swear at people and call them names in different languages, but he apologized for all that and said he’s changing his life. Then this (the murder charges) happened and we were all pretty confused.”

On Tuesday afternoon in downtown Winthrop, few local business owners said they knew the Balcer family well, if at all. But just about everyone said they were horrified by the killings and offered their condolences to the victims’ loved ones.

Melissa Shannon, speaking on Tuesday, recalls opening the door early Monday morning at her Winthrop home for a woman who said she needed police. The police later discovered the bodies of Antonio and Alice Balcer, both 47, at 10 Pine Knoll Road. Shannon holds her daughter, Kara, 1, as her daughter Ariana, 3, listens.

Melissa Shannon, speaking on Tuesday, recalls opening the door early Monday morning at her Winthrop home for a woman who said she needed police. The police later discovered the bodies of Antonio and Alice Balcer, both 47, at 10 Pine Knoll Road. Shannon holds her daughter, Kara, 1, as her daughter Ariana, 3, listens. (Staff photo by Andy Molloy) Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“I think it’s awful,” said Tricia Brennan, who works at Bloom Salon on Main Street. “I think it’s shocking.”

Brennan said she knew Antonio Balcer — a retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard who belonged to the Exiles Motorcycle Club — through mutual friends and couldn’t fathom how things could have erupted in violence in his family.

“(Antonio) was a great, great guy,” she said.

Dustin Nadeau, an Exiles Motorcycle Club member, confirmed Monday that Antonio Balcer was a member of the club, which has a clubhouse in Pittston. He said both Antonio and Alice, whom he called Ali, were great people, saying Antonio was “a great father, the kind of guy you could always turn to,” while Ali “was a huge-hearted person … one of the best people you could know.”

Antonio Balcer’s club name was “Rev,” a reference to him being “all about God and his club and his family.”

Melissa Shannon, who lives just a few houses away from the Balcers on Pine Knolls Road, said she didn’t know the family. She expressed an equal amount of surprise that such a crime could have happened on her road. Shannon, 36, lived there as a child and more recently moved back to look after her father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Shortly before 2 a.m. Monday, Shannon called police to Pine Knolls Road after a woman she did not recognize knocked on her door and said a man was trying to hurt her. The woman seemed to have come from the direction of the Balcer household, Shannon said, and continued on to another house after speaking to them.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for Maine State Police, declined to comment Tuesday on Shannon’s account, saying he had “no information” about that.

“I know a little more about what has happened now, and I just don’t understand it,” Shannon said. “That person who was here must have been so scared.”

Portland Press Herald staff writer Matt Byrne contributed to this report.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker