Killings Stun Virginia Town
APPOMATTOX, Va. - A handful of patrons and employees crowded around a TV at Granny Bee's restaurant on Wednesday to hear a Virginia State Police spokesman explain the explosions being heard in the area where eight people were shot to death the day before.
A bomb squad had found "a multitude of explosive devices" in and around the crime scene and was in the process of detonating them, Sgt. Thomas Molnar was saying. "They're going to explode the devices to render them safe today and tomorrow."
Seven explosives were detonated Wednesday afternoon, Molnar said later. He did not comment on why the explosives were there.
It was the latest jolt to the 14,000 people living among the Civil War battlefields in Appomattox County. They were already reeling when their neighbor, Christopher Speight, 39, surrendered to police Wednesday morning after an all-night manhunt.
Speight was being held without bail Wednesday night on one count of first-degree murder, said Lt. J.D. Baker of the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center.
Virginia State Police identified the victims late Wednesday as Ronald I. Scruggs II, 16; Emily A. Quarles, 15; Karen Quarles, 43; Jonathan L. Quarles, 43; Dwayne S. Sipe, 38; Lauralee Sipe, 38; Joshua Sipe, 4; and Morgan L. Dobyns, 15. All were from Appomattox except Scruggs, who was from Dillwyn, Va.
Police did not comment on any relationship between Speight and the victims.
Speight ended a night of hiding near his family's 34-acre property when he walked out of the woods toward a SWAT team. He was unarmed and uninjured, wearing a bulletproof vest, said Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the state police.
Jeanette Cordell, a waitress at Granny Bee's, was bewildered. "You just don't expect something like that in this small town," she said.
Pastor Rusty Small of Liberty Baptist Church downtown said Wednesday prayer services were focused on the victims and their families. He echoed Cordell: "There is a general sense of disbelief that this happened in this small place," he said.
"It's a big relief knowing that he's caught and nobody else can die," said Aaron Davidson, 15, who lives across a field from where police were stationed the night before.
Geller said Speight was cooperating with investigators.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the explosives and were searching for a high-powered rifle, Geller said.
The incident began around noon Tuesday when someone reported a man lying on a road, she said. A sheriff's deputy who'd arrived to investigate heard gunfire. When additional police arrived, they found four bodies outside a home co-owned by Speight. There were three more bodies inside, Geller said.
During the manhunt that followed, the gunman fired a high-powered rifle at a Virginia State Police helicopter, which was forced to land with a punctured fuel tank.
About 150 law enforcement officers from 13 federal, state and local agencies surrounded an area 2 miles by 1,000 yards and searched with dogs and heat sensors overnight, Geller said.
At the crime scene, neon yellow evidence flags could be seen in front of the large two-story home and in the surrounding woods. On the patio was a child's basketball goal, and nearby were a bicycle with training wheels and a tree house.
The Appomattox County school system will open two hours late today to allow teachers time to prepare for grieving students. Grief counselors will be available, Appomattox Town Manager Bart Van Nieuwenhuise said.
Teens who attended a regular Wednesday youth service at Memorial United Methodist Church shared stories about the young victims they knew, Pastor Bruce Johnson said.
" 'Why?' is a question we've certainly heard a lot," Johnson said.
Speight's neighbors along the rolling hills dotted with cattle said they had been spooked Tuesday by the idea that a killer was on the loose.
"We were all worried," said Audrey Phelps, 86, who used to run a service station here. "We locked the doors and did something to protect ourselves. Each of us got a gun."
When neighbors heard Speight had been arrested, they were perplexed.
Elbert Williamson, 85, a retired bus driver, said his daughter sold Speight's house and 34 acres of land to Speight's grandparents 25 years ago. The family kept to themselves, he said, but he had never heard of Speight having trouble with anyone.
Williamson's wife, Ruby, 83, said the house was nicely landscaped. "He worked hard in that yard," she said. "He had gorgeous flowers."
Her husband nodded and added, "He must be nuts about guns, because he shoots all the time. He's done it for years."