A man who police say shot and killed his estranged wife, their daughter and two other relatives before burning down his house and committing suicide had been "both physically and emotionally abusive," his wife had alleged in their divorce proceedings.
Kevin Garner's body was found Tuesday afternoon near the remains of his Priceville home, which burned to the ground overnight. His divorce trial was to start Wednesday.
Authorities believe that sometime around midnight Monday he used a handgun to shoot his estranged wife, Tammy, 40; their 16-year-old daughter, Chelsie; Garner's sister, Karen Beaty of Illinois; and Beaty's 11-year-old son, whose name was not released. Their bodies were found Tuesday in a home in Green Hill, a small community near the Tennessee line in rural north Alabama.
Court officials said the Garners were in court Monday in advance of the trial and nothing seemed unusual.
Court documents show Tammy Garner sought custody of their daughter and alleged that her husband "has been both physically and emotionally abusive."
Kevin Garner, 45, accused her of adultery and of taking $38,000 out of their joint bank account when they separated May 27.
Michael Corley, chief deputy in Morgan County, where Garner's body was found, said Beaty and her son might have been on the witness list for the divorce case. He said investigators believe Garner was "unhappy" with the proceedings. He said the divorce was filed about a year ago but was just now coming up on the court docket.
"Now that we know the final end of it all it's just going back and putting the pieces together," Corley said. "We feel like this was solely a homicide, that he killed them, then went to the home. He used some type of accelerant that caused the home to burn very, very quickly, then walked about 200 yards back into a wooded area behind the house and took his life."
Garner apparently shot himself in the chest, said Travis Clemmons, chief investigator for the sheriff's office in Lauderdale County, where the four bodies were found. Officials did not know if Kevin Garner was licensed to carry a firearm.
It was one of eight mass shootings around the country — and the third in Alabama — in the last month that have left grief-stricken communities in shock.
Clemmons said a neighbor visiting the Green Hill house Tuesday morning saw a body through the door and called authorities.
"I just can't understand it," he said, "and with a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old kid, there's nothing rational about it."
Jerry Knight, an attorney who represented Kevin Garner in the divorce case, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that Garner "had a terrific work ethic and value system. I was terribly shocked and saddened by this unexpected tragedy."
Kevin Garner had worked at a Decatur chemical plant and Tammy Garner at a Huntsville department store.
Along with Garner's two-story house, which collapsed in the fire, a green Subaru Legacy belonging to Tammy Garner was found burned in the Morgan County community of Somerville, less than 10 miles from the burned house.
The five deaths follow the stabbing deaths of four people in a home in Hueytown, near Birmingham, on March 7, and the shooting deaths of 10 people on March 10 by a gunman in south Alabama who also took his own life.
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