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Family caught in Va. gunman’s rampage

Christopher Speight
Christopher Speight, center, is led out of State Police headquarters in Appomattox, Va., on Wednesday. Speight is accused of killing eight people.Steve Helber / Associated Press
/ Source: The Associated Press

There was no school the next day, so 15-year-old Emily Quarles had a friend sleep over. As she and her mother took the friend home the next morning, they became targets for a rampaging gunman. When Emily's father and boyfriend went looking for them, they were slain too.

Police say Emily and her parents, Jonathan and Karen Quarles, and her boyfriend, 16-year-old Ronnie "Bo" Scruggs, were among eight people killed early Tuesday by 39-year-old Christopher Speight. He's accused of firing on a police helicopter and hiding in the woods before surrendering nearly a day later. Speight is the uncle of Morgan Dobyns, the friend the Quarles were dropping off, who was also killed.

An inventory obtained Friday of the items found through search warrants showed that investigators seized 42 homemade explosive devices and fuses, multiple rounds of ammunition, several assault rifles and a 9 mm pistol from the Appomattox home Speight shared with his sister, brother-in-law and their two children. The four were among Tuesday's victims.

Speight is being held without bond on a single murder charge and told a judge at a brief court appearance Friday that he has enough money to get his own lawyer. More charges are expected.

Police have not provided a timeline for the killings, which happened at the home Speight shared with his sister and her family. Melissa Stallard, Jonathan Quarles' sister, gave the following outline to the Richmond Times-Dispatch based on information police gave her:

— Karen Quarles and Dobyns, 15, were found dead on the porch and Emily Quarles was found dead in the car. It wasn't clear why she was not on the porch with the other two.

— Jonathan Quarles got worried when Karen and Emily didn't return, so he and Scruggs, who had been dropped off to hang out with Emily, went looking for them. Stallard said officials told her they would have seen Karen and Morgan's bodies on the porch when they arrived. Scruggs got out of the car and was shot beside it. Jonathan Quarles tried to run but was also shot. A sheriff's deputy found him wounded in the torso and barely alive. He died at the hospital.

— The other three people killed were Speight's sister, Lauralee Sipe, and her husband and 4-year-old son. Dobyns was her daughter from a previous marriage. Police have said three bodies were found in the house, though they have not confirmed those bodies were the Sipes.

Dispute over house?
Police have not released a motive, though friends say Speight may have thought Lauralee Sipe was trying to kick him out of the house. Deputies who arrived after the killings found one explosive booby trap, according to search warrants released Friday.

Mike Campbell, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that the number of guns found at the house wasn't unusual but the inventory of explosives was.

"These explosives could have done a lot of damage and could have killed people," Campbell said.

Relatives and people who knew Speight say he had a history of mental breakdowns and may have become fixated on the notion that his sister wanted to oust him from the house passed down to them by their grandparents and mother. The family lawyer, however, said her intention was the opposite: She planned to deed the property solely to him.

Two hearses arrive to pick up victims at a home where eight people were shot in Appomattox, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. Officers captured Christopher Speight, who is accused of killing eight people and leading police on an overnight manhunt. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)Steve Helber / AP

Speight said nothing at the court hearing Friday morning, and an arraignment has not been scheduled.

Speight had struggled since his mother died from brain cancer in 2006, said uncle Thomas Giglio. Speight's father left some 30 years ago, and he and his mother were very close.

"He didn't take it good at all," Giglio said. "I don't think he ever reconciled it."

Learning disability
Lynchburg attorney Harry Devening, who handled legal matters for the family, said Speight had an apparent learning disability and history of mental problems, and "ran away" from his sister's Georgia home for several days during a breakdown in 2007, about a year after his mother died.

Even then the family had no reason to suspect Speight might turn violent.

Devening said Lauralee Sipe perceived no problems either, signing a deed late last week to put the family property in Speight's name. She planned to record it at the courthouse immediately, he said, but both Friday and Monday were state holidays.

The lawyer cautioned her that she was giving up her half of the property.

"She said he was fine, he was normal, and she wasn't concerned about it," Devening said. As for her share, "it was never of any consequence to her. She was very happy with the arrangement."