HOT SPRINGS, Va. – Authorities in Virginia were searching Sunday for a resort employee suspected of shooting and killing two of his supervisors in the hotel kitchen while guests ate dinner in a nearby dining room.
Two kitchen workers were shot and killed around 8 p.m. Saturday at The Homestead luxury resort in the Allegheny Mountains near the West Virginia state line, Bath County Sheriff Larry Norfleet said. No one else was injured, and hotel spokeswoman Carol Stratford said no guests were present at the scene of the shooting. She said she didn't think guests heard the shots because a band was playing during dinner.
Suspect Beacher Ferrel Hackney fled the scene after the shootings, and authorities were using tracking dogs, a helicopter and road checkpoints in their hunt, the sheriff's office said.
Hackney was supervised by victims Ronnie Stinnett and Dwight Kerr, and all three worked in a department responsible for washing dishes, picking up trash and cleaning the kitchen. Stinnett and Kerr were shot with a semiautomatic handgun, Norfleet said.
Hackney has been charged with murder in the deaths, said Sheriff H.R. Lightner, of neighboring Highland County, who is part of the search team.
Norfleet said he didn't know what might have caused the shooting though officials believe it was a planned act. Norfleet described the suspect as "a loner" who had worked at the hotel since 2003. "He didn't associate with his co-workers," the sheriff said.
Damien Maiquez, a 29-year-old kitchen worker, described the victims as outgoing and friendly. Maiquez, a cook at the resort for 12 years, said he didn't know much about the suspect and wasn't on duty when the killings happened. But he described the kitchen as a large, open area full of workers during the dinner service, making it likely that other employees saw the shooting.
Ex-wife Misty Kerr described Kerr as a "awesome person" who was originally from Jamaica and had worked at the Homestead since 2000. "He would have done anything for anybody," she said from her home in Ronceverte, W.Va.
Hotel Spokeswoman Carol Stratford declined to say whether Hackney had any discipline problems or release further personal information on him or the victims. She wasn't aware of any other violent crimes at the hotel.
"We are devastated by the events that have taken place and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those involved," said a statement by the hotel.
The 483-room resort about 50 miles north of Roanoke was 70 percent full Saturday night, Stratford said. It traces its roots to 1766 when a wooden lodge was built at the site near hot mineral springs, and the main hotel building was completed in 1901.
Rates start at $225 a night at the hotel set among pine-covered mountains and known for its spas and golf courses.
Guests Jennifer and Kevin Bohannon of Syracuse, N.Y. had planned to stay until Wednesday but were considering cutting their trip short after the shootings. They arrived Saturday night around 11:30 and were stopped on the way into the resort by sheriff's deputies who told them there'd been an incident but didn't elaborate. They didn't find out more details until they read a newspaper Sunday morning.
"I'm shocked, now that I've slept on it," Jennifer Bohannon said at midday Sunday after the couple heard helicopters through the night.
Tommy and Lisa Adams of Amherst County, Va., who were visiting the grounds for the day Sunday with their children, said they have stayed at the resort several times and always found it peaceful.
"The staff was the best thing," Lisa Adams said. "They treated us like family."