A college student played dead to escape a family shooting by his father, who killed the other son and their mother before setting their house on fire and taking his own life, investigators said Monday.
Authorities said the father, retired tire factory employee William Ronald Carter, shot his wife, Bonnie, 56, and their 29-year-old son William Ronald Carter Jr. He later shot Timothy Carter, 22, in the back and then again after the son begged for mercy, but only wounded him, Henry County Sheriff's Sgt. Curtis Spence said. Spence said the father killed himself before authorities arrived at the burning home early Sunday.
Timothy Carter remained in fair condition Monday at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., according to a hospital spokeswoman.
Spence said Timothy Carter told investigators his 56-year-old father called him at Radford University, about 90 miles away, and said his mother needed to speak to him. When he arrived home in the rural community of Axton, his father said his brother was sick and was downstairs in the basement of the brick ranch-style house.
As Timothy Carter walked downstairs his father shot him in the back, Spence said.
"Timothy turned and begged for his life," Spence said, "and his father shot him again."
Spence said it appeared that William Carter had already killed his wife and older son before Timothy Carter arrived home late Saturday. The older son lived in Danville, about 25 miles away.
Timothy Carter played dead, then escaped when his father went into another part of the house, possibly to set it on fire, Spence said.
The three bodies were discovered in the basement. It appears that an accelerant had been spread throughout the house, Spence said.
Plea for help
Timothy Carter fled to the home of a neighbor, Deborah Akers, who awakened to hear him beating on the door.
"He was just distressed, calling for help," she said Monday. Akers said she tended to Timothy Carter's wounds as best she could and called 911.
Akers said she had known the Carters for more than 20 years and had never seen signs of trouble in the family.
"They were good family people, good Christian people," she said.
An online check of the Carters' court records turned up nothing more serious than traffic violations, and Spence said investigators were looking into the backgrounds of the father as well as his victims.
"They were not well-known to police," he said.
The senior Carter voluntarily took a buyout and retired April 1 from the Goodyear tire plant in Danville where had had worked for more than 35 years, company spokeswoman Jo Andrews said.
Spence said a combination rifle/shotgun, with two barrels, was used in the shootings, so it was more difficult for authorities to determine the caliber of ammunition used on each family member.
Autopsies were being performed Monday in Roanoke.
Because of the fire, authorities haven't determined whether there was a struggle before the first two shootings.
Spence said the father's motive has not been determined.
"For him to lure his son home to his death, it appears that it was planned," Spence said.