01/21/2010

Va. alleged killer has mental health issues, attorney said

Speight killed sister, brother-in-law when he thought they would kick him out

By Vicki Smith
The Associated Press

APPOMATTOX, Va. — An attorney says the man suspected of killing eight people at a home in Virginia had a history of mental problems.

Lynchburg attorney Henry Devening handled legal matters for the family of suspected shooter Christopher Speight (spyt). The owner of a market where Speight worked as a security guard says Speight was worried about his sister and brother-in-law kicking him out of the house where they all lived. The sister and brother-in-law were among the shooting victims.

But Devening says he doesn't understand how Speight could have thought that. He says Speight's sister last week signed a deed putting the Appomattox property in Speight's name.

Devening says Speight had a history of mental problems and ran away from his sister's Georgia home during a breakdown in 2007.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

APPOMATTOX, Va. (AP) - The security guard accused of unleashing a bloodbath that killed eight people and planting bombs on his shared, quiet Virginia homestead had complained to a friend that he feared being turned out of the house by his sister and brother-in-law.

The couple was among the dead identified late Wednesday by police, shortly after they charged 39-year-old Christopher Bryan Speight with first-degree murder. The other victims of Tuesday morning's rampage were two adults, three teenagers and a 4-year-old boy.

Authorities have refused to offer a motive for the slayings, but Speight told a friend and former employer he was worried about being kicked out of the house.

Speight never wanted to talk about it, but he "constantly paced the floor," said David Anderson, co-owner of the Sunshine Market grocery store in Lynchburg where Speight sometimes worked. "I thought he was going to wear a trench in it."

Police found most of the bodies in or near the house. Speight gave himself up to police early Wednesday after leading investigators on an 18-hour manhunt. A bomb squad discovered a multitude of explosives in the home, and crews were detonating the devices into the night.

Speight's mother deeded the house to Speight and his sister in 2006, shortly before she died of brain cancer. His mother's obituary listed the daughter as Lauralee Sipe and her husband as Dewayne Sipe.

State police identified the Sipes, both 38, as two of the victims, along with 16-year-old Ronald Scruggs; 15-year-old Emily Quarles; 43-year-old Karen and Jonathan Quarles; 15-year-old Morgan Dobyns; and 4-year-old Joshua Sipe.

Police say Speight knew all the victims, but they did not outline the victims' relationships.

The three teenagers were students at Appomattox County High School, which planned to have grief counselors posted throughout the school Thursday. Principal Michael Kelly said the school, which was closed Wednesday after the shootings, would reopen two hours late so officials can discuss how best to help students cope with the deaths.

The drama unfolded when a mortally wounded man was found Tuesday on the side of an unpaved road bounded by forests and farmland. Then sheriff's deputies discovered seven more bodies - three in the house and four just outside.

Police converged as chaos ensued in this rural patch of central Virginia. Speight fired a high-powered rifle at least four times at a state police helicopter trying to flush him out of the woods, rupturing its gas tank and forcing it to land.

The shots revealed his location, and more than 100 police officers penned him, launching the manhunt. It ended only when Speight emerged at sunrise Wednesday, wearing a bulletproof vest over a black fleece jacket, camouflage pants and mud-caked boots.

Speight had no weapons when he surrendered. He's being held on one count of first-degree murder, but other charges are likely. No court date has been set.

After Speight's surrender, Bomb squads discovered what police called "a multitude" of explosive devices planted in the house and outdoors. They began methodically detonating them, blowing up seven until rain forced them to stop. The detonations were expected to resume Thursday.

Speight and his sister co-owned the well-kept, two-story home and 34-acre property that surrounded it. In front was a split-rail fence, a patio with furniture and landscaping. Nearby were a bicycle with training wheels, a plastic basketball hoop, a tree house.

Neighbor Monte W. Mays said Speight was cordial and friendly. They waved as they passed on the road and sent their dogs to play together.

Speight had long been a gun enthusiast and enjoyed target shooting at a range on his property, Mays said. But the shooting recently became a daily occurrence, with Speight firing what Mays said were high-powered rifles.

"Then we noticed he was doing it at nighttime," and the gunfire started going deeper into the woods, Mays said.

Mays said the entire community is devastated and wondering what triggered the slayings.

"The only one who's going to know now is Chris," he said.

Clarence Reynolds, who also works at the market, said he recently discussed a personal family problem with Speight.

Speight told him "don't let you emotions get the best of you."

Dakota Henderson, a junior at Appomattox High School, knew the teenage victims. They had Tuesday off because it was a teacher service day following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Henderson said he ate dinner with Speight a few times and found nothing odd about him.

"He's an all right guy," he said. "You wouldn't think he would do something like this."

Classes at Appomattox County Public Schools were delayed by two hours Thursday so staff would have time to "prepare to talk with their students about the tragedy," according to a release by the school system. Counselors were also going to be on hand.

Compassion was also offered at an impromptu prayer gathering attended by about 100 people late Wednesday at Thomas Terrace Baptist Church in Lynchburg.

Friends there described Emily Quarles as outgoing and friendly, and Scruggs as a class clown.

Courtney Crews, 14, said she and Emily attended the same middle school but different high schools. They kept in touch by texting and talking on the phone.

"She was just a really good friend," Crews said as she cried. "She was never mean to anybody."

Gabrielle Akoester, 13, knew Emily Quarles and Scruggs. The girls went roller-skating at the same rink every weekend.

"I'm going to keep praying for comfort and all," she said, "and I will get through this."

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