The two people with the suspected South Carolina serial killer when he was shot to death by police were siblings who met him two weeks ago and didn't know about his killing spree, police said Tuesday.
The brother and sister met the suspected killer Patrick Burris, 41, at a hotel and then were at a vacant house in Gastonia, N.C., owned by one of their parents, when police were called to investigate a burglary. When authorities arrived, Burris pulled a gun and officers shot him.
His death relieved many area residents who have been armed and on edge since the killing spree began June 27. Burris was blamed for the shooting deaths of five people in a 10-mile area in rural Gaffney, which is about 30 miles south of Gastonia.
Burris was a career criminal paroled just two months ago, authorities said. He was with Mark Stamey, 35, and his sister Sharon Stamey, 31, when he was gunned down. Police described the siblings as transients who had a drug and criminal past.
'He was scary'
The Stameys were not charged and police were not sure of their whereabouts since questioning them after the shooting in Gastonia.
"They were not actively living there," Capt. Joe Ramey of the Gaston County Police Department said. "There's no power. Sometimes they squat there — sneak in and stay at night."
Investigators said they had no idea why Burris went on a killing spree.
"He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird," said Neil Dolan, deputy director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Ballistics tests showed Burris's gun matched the one that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd said.
Burris had a long rap sheet filled with convictions for larceny, forgery and breaking and entering in states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving almost eight years.
"Look at this," Lloyd said, waving a stapled copy of Burris' criminal record. "This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street."
Gaffney farmer Sam Howell, 61, was among dozens of people from Cherokee County at the news conference where authorities identified Burris.
"My prayers were answered. He got what he deserved," Howell said. "He scared the hell out of everyone. I guess we can feel better but we've lost some of our innocence."
Many sleepless nights
People who normally kept their doors open and welcomed strangers stopped trusting their own neighbors.
Gina Brown said she spent many sleepless nights worried about her family's safety. She called the couple's four adult children, who still live in the area, every night to tell them she loved them and make sure they were safe.
"They thought I was crazy, but they understood," she said.
The mystery ended in Gastonia early Monday after Mike and Terri Valentine called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighborhood.
The Valentines were on alert because the Gaffney serial killer was just a short drive away.
They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighboring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavyset, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mike Valentine said.
When officers arrived and went inside, Terri Valentine said she heard someone yell "put it down" and heard a gunshot.
Then "bam, bam, bam, bam. Next thing I know, all of Gaston County was here," she said.
The Gaffney killings began when peach farmer Kline Cash, 63, was killed June 27. Four days later, 83-year-old Hazel Linder and her daughter, 50-year-old Gena Linder Parker, were found bound and shot in the older woman's home. The next day, Stephen Tyler and his 15-year-old daughter Abby were found shot in their family's furniture store.
The investigation isn't over, and Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators will trace the suspect's recent activities and trying to figure out if he has killed other people in other places.
"Now we have someone we can focus on," Blanton said.