Authorities said the robber apparently had heard that the family had received a large insurance settlement after the father was hurt in an industrial accident.
According to police, the deadly drama began about 12:10 a.m. when the masked assailant showed up on the steps of the family's home in the 500 block of North 36th Street and demanded to be let in.
When the occupants refused, the man appeared to leave, only to break in through a basement window minutes later.
Hearing a noise in the basement, Hanh Ngo, 25, who lived in the house along with her 4-year-old daughter, her husband, Son Thanh Le, 24, and 10 other members of the couple's extended family, went downstairs to investigate. She was fatally shot in the chest by the intruder as he entered through the
window. Ngo managed to stagger to the front door, where she collapsed and died.
Camden County Prosecutor Edward F. Borden Jr. said the intruder then ''withdrew from the window" and the wounded woman ran upstairs to the first floor for help. The residents tried to call police, but found the phone dead - the telephone line to the house had been cut.
Le then ran upstairs and tried to yell for help from a second-floor bathroom window, but was shot in the head through the window screen. He collapsed and died on the bathroom floor shortly afterward, Borden said.
The assailant proceeded to kick in the locked door and held the remaining 11 occupants hostage on the floor at gunpoint while he went from room to room, looking for money.
Borden said Le had lost part of his right arm in an industrial accident while working at Fidelipac Corp. in Moorestown four years ago. About six months ago, he had been awarded "a large cash settlement" from the company's insurer.
The unidentified gunman, Borden said, "appeared to know about the insurance." He said the family had deposited it.
"He doesn't seem to have any close relationship with the family," the prosecutor added.
Finding no money in the house, the assailant grabbed the couple's child and told terrified family members that he would kill the little girl and firebomb the house if he did not get $25,000 by the next day.
"There may have been a small amount of money in the house," Borden said. ''But he ransacked the house looking for money and took nothing."
Officers arriving at the scene saw the gunman leave the house with the girl. Knowing that he was armed, they cautiously followed him down the street.
"He walked three or four blocks to 36th Street, makes a left onto Westfield, goes down about a half block and gets up on the porch," said Camden Police Capt. Dennis Keegan. "That's when he's confronted and a sharpshooter brought in."
Keegan said police attempted to negotiate with the man for the child's release for more than a half-hour.
Throughout the negotiations, the gunman threatened to kill the child, saying he had already killed two people and did not intend to be taken alive by police.
To prove his point, he fired off a couple of shots from his .22-caliber handgun.
"He made reference to the fact that he's been doing this all his life . . . kidnapping people," Keegan said. "It got to the point where the safety of the officer and the safety of the girl came first."
Just as the sharpshooter was given the go-ahead to shoot, the gunman hoisted the girl in front of his face and police held fire, engaging him in more conversation.
When he put down the child again, the sharpshooter fired once from a high- powered rifle, striking the gunman in the head. Authorities declined to identify the police sharpshooter.
The girl was staying with relatives last night, authorities said.
"When the ordeal was over, she appeared to be a 4-year-old girl with no ill affects, physically," Keegan said. "I don't know how she's dealing with it herself, but she seems to be OK. She was laughing and playing around."
Yesterday, the murdered couple's two-story brick home was cordoned off in yellow crime tape as police continued to comb the residence for evidence. Four automobiles remained unmoved in the driveway.
Borden said some of the family members, including Le and his wife, had scheduled a trip back to Vietnam tomorrow or Wednesday.
Authorities said they did not believe the gunman was working alone. They theorized the assailant was aware of the travel plans and "tried to get the money or at least some of the money prior to them going back to their country."
It was not known whether the victims might have recognized the gunman
because he was wearing a ski mask.
"That could have been because he didn't want to be identified or that they could identify him," Keegan said.
Tasha Briggs, who lives two doors down from the couple's home, said she heard gunshots and ran to the window to see a man kicking in their door.
"Then I heard six or seven more gunshots," she said. "The next thing I knew, a lot of police cars started surrounding the house."
Borden said the gunman had a picture of a .45-caliber handgun tattooed on his left forearm with a derivative of the word "ninja" inscribed beneath it.
Authorities last night said they were investigating the possibility that a November 1991 armed robbery in Camden's Cramer Hill secion may be connected to yesterday's fatal robbery attempt. The investigation was slowed because the witnesses do not speak English, authorities said.
"We're having a bit of a translation problem," Borden said.
Authorities said they planned to interview family members again this morning with a Vietnamese interpreter, "after they've had a chance to settle down."