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'Long-simmering dispute' sparks deadly spree

Three people were killed and four others wounded after a man opened fire in a rural neighborhood in central Virginia, police said.
Donald Lowe, Ashland Fortune
Major Donald Lowe, right, chief deputy of the Louisa County Sheriff's department, speaks during a news conference along with Sheriff Ashland Fortune, left, in Louisa, Va., on Monday. A gunman opened fire Sunday during a domestic dispute, killing two people and injuring four others before he was killed by police. Steve Helber / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A man who shot and killed his son and nephew and wounded four other relatives had been involved in an ongoing family dispute over a piece of property in rural central Virginia, authorities said Monday.

Sheriff's deputies had been called to the property nearly two dozen times in recent years — including once earlier in the day Sunday — before Charles P. Steadman Sponaugle, 52, opened fire on his family members, Louisa sheriff's Maj. Donnie Lowe said.

Sponaugle fired at two deputies and unleashed his pit bull at them before deputies fatally shot both Sponaugle and the dog, said Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.

Deputies had been called out to the property around 2 p.m. Sunday and a dispute was resolved. But they were called again around 4:45 p.m. when Sponaugle opened fire with a .22-caliber semiautomatic target pistol, Geller said.

Sponaugle shot and killed his son, Charles P. Steadman, 29, and nephew Mark A. Cooper Jr., 23. Also shot were his sister, Kitty L. Cooper, 41; brother-in-law Mark A. Cooper Sr., 45; and nephews Jerrell A. Steadman Jr., 26, and Jason C. Steadman, 27.

Jason Steadman was flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where he remained Monday in stable condition. Jerrell Steadman was held overnight for observation, and Kitty and Mark Cooper Sr. were treated and released.

P.T. Spencer, a member of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, said Monday that Sponaugle and two other relatives had an ongoing dispute over a 1.5-acre lot.

"We've had problems with them," Spencer said of Sponaugle's family.

Geller said there were multiple residences on the property, and that Sponaugle lived at the home where the shootings took place.

Court documents show that the property was assessed at $52,100. Sponaugle's mother deeded it to him and five others, including Kitty Cooper, in July 2002.

Since 2001, deputies had been called out to the property 23 times, but the disputes had never gotten physical, Lowe said.

On Monday, several people gathered outside the weathered mobile home with boarded-up windows, telling reporters to leave the property, located off a dirt road. A few dogs were held in a pen in the front yard.