BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Less than 12 hours after he was arrested in the shooting deaths of five family members, an elementary school vice principal was released from jail when police concluded they lacked enough evidence to hold him.

Vincent Brothers, 41, walked out of the county jail in Elizabeth City, N.C., early this morning, a day after he turned himself in for questioning in the deaths of his former wife, mother-in-law and three children.

He allowed investigators to swab the inside of his mouth to collect a DNA sample, and investigators with a warrant searched his mother's home in Elizabeth City, Elizbeth City Detective Robin Vanscoy said today.

Bakersfield Police Capt. Neil Mahan said his department decided to release Brothers based on new information and after conferring with prosecutors who would decide whether to file charges.

"He may be rearrested. We have much to do," said Mahan, who earlier in the day had acknowledged that Brothers had been arrested "just because of the circumstances."

Bakersfield police said Brothers was their only potential suspect and they were trying to determine if anyone else might have had a motive for the killings.

A family friend found the bodies of the five victims at their home Tuesday morning. All had been shot to death.

Authorities identified them as Brothers' ex-wife, Joanie Harper, 39; their three children, Marques Harper, 4, Lyndsey Harper, 23 months, and Marshall Harper, 1 1/2 months; and Joanie Harper's mother, Earnestine Harper, 70.

Mahan said police do not have the murder weapon, and there are no weapons registered to Brothers.

Brothers' blue pickup was found Tuesday at an airport bus terminal in Bakersfield. Mahan said Brothers was seen there July 2 — four days before the family members were last seen alive Sunday morning at church.

Police did not say how long Brothers had been out of state.

Police have executed search warrants at two residences in Bakersfield and a third in Elizabeth City.

Dennis Steward, 51, a longtime friend of Brothers' in Bakersfield, said Brothers' release confirmed everything he knew about his friend.

"See, I knew he didn't do this," Steward said. "The Bakersfield Police Department sometimes jumps the gun and they're just out fishing."

Irma Carson, a Bakersfield City Council member and former police officer who knew Earnestine Harper and Brothers well, said violence was "out of character" for Brothers.

"People liked him. Parents liked him. Of course, the first suspect they always look at is the husband," Carson said.

Joanie Harper and Brothers were granted an annulment in September 2001 and Harper was given sole custody of Marques and Lyndsey, court records show. But relatives and friends said the couple stayed involved in each other's lives and even lived together at times. It was unclear whether they had remarried.

Brothers has had a history of marital difficulties, according to court records and police.

During his first marriage, he was convicted of spousal abuse, police said. In 1992, amid the breakup of his second marriage, his wife filed for a restraining order, saying Brothers "is violent and has threatened to kill me."

Brothers worked at Emerson Middle School, across the street from where the victims were found, from 1989 to 1996. Since 1996, he has been vice principal at Fremont Elementary School, which has more than 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.