Two men, two divergent lives, one fatal conflict

Decades-old yearbook comment by south Palo Alto shooter Marc Miller eerily prophetic

He was a father and grandfather of six, an apartment manager whom residents characterized as both strict and caring, an inventor, businessman and writer who believed in living spiritually and called his aged mother every day.

His killer, by contrast, was a quiet man who seemed lonely and about whom little is known. But a quote beneath his high school yearbook picture would become chillingly prophetic:

"I never like being hit without striking back," Marc Alvin Miller wrote in 1962, quoting a 1903 speech by British politician and imperialist Joseph Chamberlain.

On March 19, Miller, 69, apparently killed Alta Torre Apartments manager Vincent DePaul Collins, 70, in their south Palo Alto complex, shooting him four times in the head and torso, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office. Miller then entered the elevator and turned the semi-automatic handgun on himself.

Palo Alto police have yet to release a motive for the homicide. But one resident told the Weekly the shooting was retaliation: Collins made Miller park his oil-leaking car on the street instead of allowing it in the parking garage.

This week, profiles of the two men — who in some ways could not have been more different — emerged.

A daughter of Collins, who asked not to be named, said her father led a "very colorful and amazing life." He was born in Texas but moved to the Bay Area at age 1. He attended San Jose High School, where he was a basketball star. He attended college at Texas A&M University but soon returned to the Bay Area to work for IBM in sales. An entrepreneur and inventor, he started and owned an aquarium company and later a computer service business, which was successful for many years, she said.

As an inventor, "He was always coming up with ideas," his daughter said, adding that he held patents for a fireplace ashtray and a large-scale water filtration system.

Collins wrote every day, arising at 5 a.m. A spiritual man, he published a book, "New Logic — Living a Life of Harmony," she said.

But the family remembers his compassion and selflessness most.

"When my brother and sister and I and our parents would travel somewhere, like on Thanksgiving, when we would drive through a toll (booth), Dad would pay for the 10 people behind him — and that is who he was. He was always paying it forward, and he taught his kids to do that too. He did it in such beautiful ways," his daughter recalled.

"If you had a problem, he would help you, and you would always leave feeling better. He had a smile and a laugh that would light up a room."

At Christmastime, Collins and his wife would always adopt a needy family. They would bring over presents and food and quietly decorate the person's home and a tree. But he did it without letting the adopted family's children know he had anything to do with it, she said.

"He never wanted the kids to know that he did this for them. It was so important for him to do that for a family and to go in there silently."

She and her father were together for the last time a month ago at her wedding.

"I'm so grateful I was able to be his daughter," she said.

When the family arrived at the housing complex at 3895 Fabian Way earlier this week, residents hugged the family, she said.

"They cried and told us how wonderful my dad is. They were openly sobbing and holding our family."

Collins had managed the 56-unit housing complex for low-income seniors since it opened five years ago.

"Everybody is very upset," Judy Jagerman, an Alta Torre resident, said earlier this week. "It's such a tragedy."

Jagerman recalled what Collins had meant to her. When she faced a crisis and lost her job, Collins told her to "trust in the process." She posted those words in her apartment for encouragement, and she did find a job, she said.

A woman who asked to be identified only as the daughter of tenant Vladmir Divnich said Collins had the tenants and the housing complex at heart.

"He was here before they opened the apartments in 2010, and he interviewed everyone who lived there," she said. "Five years later, it looks like a brand-new place. He was strict, but he didn't come up with the rules."

Collins "was trying to enforce the rules that everyone was supposed to follow. He wanted everyone to live in the best environment. You don't scratch the walls, or you are responsible to fix it. Otherwise, it isn't fair to other people," she said.

But resident Adassa Walker said she'd had a few run-ins with Collins. When her daughter gave her a plant for her birthday, Walker put it on the patio outside her apartment. The pot leaked a little water, leaving a small stain, which made Collins angry, she said.

Collins also made Walker move her car out of the garage and onto the street after it started leaking oil. Her daughter had the car fixed, but recently Collins said it was leaking again. Walker's daughter asked to leave the car in the garage with a pan underneath it until she could afford to get it fixed, but Collins had refused, she said.

That policy might have led to a conflict with Miller, Walker said. Parking on the street is a hardship for older persons. Often, it's difficult to find a parking space and then walk back to the complex, she said. On-street cars also have to be moved every 72 hours.

Miller had spoken with Walker's daughter on a number of occasions.

"He was really upset about his car, and it was going on for a while," Walker said of the disagreement with Collins.

In addition to Collins' role as enforcer of the rules, the 70-year-old might have appeared intimidating to some because he was large, Divnich's daughter said.

"He was a passionate guy with a big presence and a loud voice," she said, adding that both his size and demeanor were tempered by his age.

Miller, on the other hand, was known to be quiet and kept to himself, residents said. He often exchanged pleasantries with others, but few people this week said they really knew him.

Miller left little in terms of a trail, on the Internet or otherwise. He was raised in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and graduated from Longmeadow High School in 1962, according to his yearbook. His high school portrait shows a slight young man who looked younger than his peers. He smiled in a photograph with the photography club, and he was also a member of the audio-visual aides club and the chess club, and he took part in intramurals.

On the "class caricatures" page, Miller is described: "Always: Democrat; Will be: plumber; Remembered by or for: individualism."

He appears to have lived in several Bay Area cities before landing in Palo Alto, according to online address records, and he may have lived downtown before moving into Alta Torre.

A senior who lives a floor below Miller's fourth-floor apartment and who frequently saw him around the complex described him as "lonely." But though she said Miller lived alone, she didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary about him.

She said she had seen Miller at about 2 p.m. March 19, roughly an hour before police received the 911 call, and nothing seemed amiss. She said she had just walked into the building when she saw Miller walking out of the elevator.

"We just said, 'Hi. How are you?' like neighbors typically do," the woman, who did not want to be identified by name, told the Weekly.

But in a little more than an hour, Miller's life would be over, and Palo Alto police would be investigating their first homicide of the year.

Palo Alto firefighters responded to a 911 call from the complex shortly after 3 p.m. A resident reported that a man in the building's elevator needed medical assistance. They found Miller with a handgun in his lap and an apparent gunshot wound to the head.

About 10 minutes later, police officers who were summoned to the scene found a second body — Collins' — in the manager's office on the first floor.

The woman who dialed 911 told the Weekly that she had been waiting for the elevator with her husband. The woman lives in the building and asked not to be identified by name.

"The elevator opened and I saw someone had collapsed inside," she said. "He was lying on his left side. I saw there was blood near his head."

The shootings triggered a heavy police response to the bustling block, which also includes Loral Space Systems and the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center. For hours after the shootings, the main entrances to Alta Torre and the Jewish Community Center were cordoned off while officers collected evidence.

Yet despite the flurry of activity, police almost immediately determined that there was no danger to the public. At about 4:45 p.m., police said they had recovered the weapon and that they didn't believe a gunman remained at large.

The next day, officials from BRIDGE Housing, which built and manages the property, sent a letter to residents expressing their condolences and concern. They planned to hold a meeting about the tragedy, Jagerman said.

Divnich's daughter said BRIDGE has brought in a temporary manager while looking for a permanent one. Among residents, the first shock has passed, and they are now concerned with the broader issues of their safety, she said.

"They do have concerns that here in Palo Alto something like this could happen. There could have been other people walking around at the time, and who knows what would have happened?"

Alta Torre is a quiet place, she said. The doors are always locked, and tenants have an electronic pass key or must call to get in.

"It's not possible for someone to get into the building otherwise," she said.

Though Collins' and Miller's lives intersected in tragic ways, Collins's daughter said she hasn't encountered Miller's family since arriving at Alta Torre.

"My heart goes out to his family because that is a hard burden to hold," she said of the knowledge that one's family member has killed someone.

"We don't know why this happened. There's nothing that justifies something like this," she said.

Collins is survived by his mother, Margaret Collins, brother Patrick Collins, sister Andrea, son Vincent Collins III (daughter-in-law Connie), daughters Jackie Collins and one who asked not to be identified, and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 28, at 11 a.m. at the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment in San Jose.

As of Thursday morning, the case was still under investigation, Lt. Zach Perron said. Detectives are not expected to complete the investigation until next week.

Related content:

Manager slain at Palo Alto senior complex described as 'strict,' 'kind' (March 24, 2015)

Victims identified in suspected murder-suicide in Palo Alto (March 21, 2015)

Police investigate possible murder-suicide in Palo Alto (March 19, 2015)

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5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2015 at 7:54 am

Two questions.

Are residents allowed to have guns in this? Is this a question that a housing authority is allowed to ask and prohibit?

Is a garage allowed to refuse entry to a car that has a leak or any other mechanical problem?

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2015 at 9:20 am

Victim was black, killer was white. Why has this angle not been reported before?

3 people like this
Posted by Raymond
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:28 am

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

MercuryNews has published an obituary for the manager -- Web Link

38 people like this
Posted by Downtown resident
a resident of University South
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:01 am

A very poor job done with this comparison. My good friend lives in this apartment complex. She was telling me long time ago how abrasive this manager was, acting like the owner of the entire property, etc. etc. This is especially sick when you think about these elderly people with very limited resources. I was absolutely not surprised when I heard the news.

15 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

Mr. Collins sounds like a wonderful man and a great loss to our community. There aren't many guys like him around anymore - strict, kind, generous yet discrete. My deepest condolences to his family.

If Mr. Miler was mentally ill, then I am sorry for that, but then question why he had the gun. Troubled and unstable people should not have guns, period.

27 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:34 am

I find this story rather sad. In that it is trying to paint a picture of emotion and
gravitas on the slimmest of evidence to me it seems to end up just trying to
fold some emotions and prejudices together based on very skimpy evidence.
What was really found out about these two people, their circumstances and
their interactions?

We have family comments on the one side, and 51 year old yearbook
comments on the other. Is there enough data here to draw conclusions,
and if not would this so-called "deeper look" at these two individuals really
be valid or helpful? The bottom line is that one man broke the ultimate law
and took another man's life, and then his own. Sounds like a very desperate
act to me. Was Miller constantly desperate, alone, violence and unpredictable
even before his yearbook quote was published?

If it was complicated or ugly on either side, would anyone mention that, or would
any article capture it? So why put out these possible invalid reinforcements of
what are essentially stereotypes? This certainly plays into the unpredictably
violent loner stereotype. OR ... why write this article at all, what does it add?

For instance, my Dad, retired, manages a luxury housing complex in another
state and for him it is a refuge where he can maintain a measure of the respect,
control and authority he had when he was both an Air Force Officer and a
Fortune 500 Corporate Officer. I've seen close hand how conflicts arise and
challenges or criticisms of authority really escalated in certain situations.
There is a possible element of the overbearing authority, but somehow it is
OK to evoke the unpredictably violent loner stereotype while ignoring the more
negative stereotype - without what I would say was a preponderance of the
evidence before much is known. Pile on the guilty party, sure, but is the
background merely convenient fiction? How many wonderful law-abiding
loners do we have in our town that will never commit any crimes?

The apartment manager was the victim, and is sympathetic, or course, but
with all this help to others why did he provoke such a reaction from his killer?
Certainly nothing Vincent DePaul Collins, 70, could have done deserves what
he was given, however with all the sensitivity he is portrayed as having,
he must have had some idea that Marc Alvin Miller, 69, was having a hard time.
Did he not care, did he miss it or did he miscalculate badly as to how he
was affecting Miller. In other words could there have been an opportunity
to either resolve differences or get Miller out of there without conflict?
I'd be interested to read an article that had some information on that.

Perhaps it is not yearbook quotes but something along the nature of the same
stress that is causing problems with some of Palo Alto's children ... life is very
stressful and no one cares much in this area unless you have the money to
motivate them because they have the same stresses - usually about money.
At least in the past there used to be a moral counter to the economic world,
but now more and more this economic world is being touted as the only thing,
the righteous thing.

Like this comment
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 27, 2015 at 11:46 am

"Lastly, the final cause {Gk. τελος [télos]} is the end or purpose for which a thing exists, so the final cause of our house would be to provide shelter for human beings. This is part of the explanation of the house's existence because it would never have been built unless someone needed it as a place to live."
Web Link

15 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

Its astonishing and disgusting that so many people have commented on this tragedy as if a strict apartment manager, who was obviously highly motivated to help people, was in any way responsible for his murder. Its causes terrible suffering for all concerned. A man with his heart in the right place has been taken away from us.

17 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2015 at 12:52 pm

"Its astonishing and disgusting that so many people have commented on this tragedy as if a strict apartment manager, who was obviously highly motivated to help people, was in any way responsible for his murder. Its causes terrible suffering for all concerned. A man with his heart in the right place has been taken away from us."

Absolutely!!! I am completely shocked that anyone - particurly people who live amongst us - would find any justification in a murder. I agree with CrescentParkanon; it does speak volumes of the underlying issues affecting the youth in this city.

If you don't like the management, then complain to the property owners, get your neighbors to sign a petition, call the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and get some free advice on tenant rights, or just move out. Get a grip people, this was a murder!

14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm

I agree with the previous 2 comments that this article spends too much time speculating about apartment rules and too little time (essentially no time) talking about what really happened. Where did this gun come from? Did anyone know he had a gun? Are guns allowed by the apartment rules? Was the gun legal? What can we do keep guns out of the hands of potential killers?

5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm

"Troubled and unstable people should not have guns, period."

Should they be allowed to drive cars? Possess knives? Have access to bricks?
Live in the vicinity of our children?
(Let alone fly commercial airliners.)

6 people like this
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:13 pm

The easy and ubiquitous availability of guns make this SO EASY. Just a slight trigger on a bad day and a simple aim and trigger pull. Should any of us be shocked or dismayed anymore? Another day in America, America.......

3 people like this
Posted by joyce
a resident of Hoover School
on Mar 27, 2015 at 6:43 pm

This is horrific, and a tremendous loss. He was a wonderful man, and obviously an excellent manager. He will not be replaceable.
It's heartbreaking to think of the pain to his family: his mother, his children and grandchildren, his siblings as well as all who relied on his friendship. Even the residents that he helped through the process of applying and living there. The care he exhibited
He'll be missed. I miss him very very much. Such a loss, very painful.

Like this comment
Posted by Anony
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:51 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 27, 2015 at 10:20 pm

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 28, 2015 at 6:21 pm

It's like the police or military..someone is in control and takes their job so seriously that with the constant backlash day after day, week after week, someone will just eventually SNAP from the pressure if not deflated. Two people, two sides. Two elderly. Two attitudes. Two deaths, very unfortunate for all involved.

Like this comment
Posted by lancer
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2015 at 8:38 am

In reference to the yearbook quote for Marc Miller......he did not select that quote for himself. Back in those days at LHS all the quotes were selected by the yearbook committee of five. Nevertheless it is still prophetic!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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