LAKELAND, Fla. — His father and stepmother had fought before, and 13-year-old Nathan Bellar had no reason to believe their latest exchange would turn violent.
After an argument on Sunday, though, the teen watched his father gun down the woman as she tried to take her sons to their grandparents'. Nathan ran back through the house and heard his father shoot his younger brothers, but the gunfire wasn't over.
His father chased him through the cluttered garage and took aim, but tripped on a bicycle before he could get off another fatal shot. As Nathan ran screaming to the safety of a neighbor's house, the father killed himself in the front lawn.
The teen was staying with his grandparents Monday, a day after investigators said Troy Ryan Bellar, 34, shot and killed his wife, Wendy Bellar, 31, and their 5-month-old and 8-year-old sons. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the surviving teen was quiet and cried some after the shootings but also helped detectives piece together the deadly sequence of events.
"His entire family is gone," Judd said.
"What he witnessed, what he was engaged in, most people in this world will never witness," the sheriff later added.
Wife was trying to drive away
Wendy Bellar was carrying 5-month-old Zack James Bellar out the front door in a car seat when Nathan Bellar saw his father follow them with a 7.62 mm rifle, Judd said. She intended to take the infant and her 8-year-old son, Ryan Patrick Bellar, to her in-laws for the night but was shot down on the screen porch.
Nathan told deputies the earlier argument gave no indication that the evening would turn violent. Investigators said they had not found any suicide note, and a motive remained unclear for the killings in Lakeland, between Tampa and Orlando.
"They argued a little bit, but nothing significant," Judd said.
It wasn't the first argument for the couple who'd been married for 10 years. According to an arrest affidavit, Troy Bellar accused his wife of hitting, punching and scratching him in March. Wendy Bellar was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, and the case was pending.
Sunday night's gunfire sent panicked neighbors to their phones to dial 911. One of them told an emergency dispatcher she saw the teen "running around in the garage with his hands up, and like screaming," according to a recording of the call.
After Nathan safely reached the home of another neighbor, that woman relayed information from him to a 911 dispatcher.
"A boy's here at my house that lives there and says that his dad shot his mom and there's a baby there," the neighbor, who was not identified, told a 911 operator.
"I know this is going to be very hard for you to ask him," the operator said. "Is his mom still alive?"
After an exchange between the neighbor and the boy, the woman told the operator: "She got shot in the head."
Wife, sons were found on porch
Deputies arrived at a horrific scene: Wendy Bellar and her two young sons dead from gunshot wounds in their screened-in porch and their father lifeless in the front yard. A preliminary investigation indicates that more than 10 rounds were fired in all.
"It left veteran detectives and crime scene technicians that do this for a living stunned last night," Judd said.
"He cried some, as you can imagine," Judd said. "As he should have done. And he was very quiet. And we were very delicate with him."
Investigators say Troy Bellar ran a home remodeling and handyman business, which next-door neighbor Doug Lane said seemed to do a steady business despite the economic downturn.
"He said the remodeling had dropped off, but he was doing repair work for commercial apartments and that sort of thing," Lane said. "He said that he was staying busy."
Judd couldn't say if the family was experiencing any financial difficulties.
Records show the husband had been arrested twice in the county, on suspicion of armed robbery and aggravated battery in 1994 and for driving under the influence in 1999. He was convicted of petit/retail theft in the first case and of driving under the influence in the second.
But if the couple argued before, Lane said he never heard them. He said he saw them sitting outside together Sunday evening, giving no indication that anything was wrong.
"Troy and Wendy were good, good neighbors," Lane said. "Fortunate to know them. Just an awful shock."
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