PRICEVILLE, Ala. – A man shot and killed his estranged wife, their teenage daughter and two other relatives in rural north Alabama before returning to his home in a nearby town and killing himself the day before their divorce trial, authorities said Tuesday.
Travis Clemmons, chief investigator for the Lauderdale County sheriff's office, said Kevin Garner's body was found Tuesday afternoon near his home in Priceville, which burned to the ground overnight. He said Garner apparently shot himself in the chest.
Earlier in the day, authorities had found the other four bodies in a home in Green Hill, a small community near the Tennessee line in a nearby county. Those bodies were identified as Garner's estranged wife, Tammy, 40; their 16-year-old daughter, Chelsie; and Garner's sister and the sister's 11-year-old son, Clemmons said. He identified the sister as Karen Beaty of Illinois but did not have other information about her and the slain boy.
He said the four were shot, apparently with a handgun. Investigators said the killings happened around midnight Monday.
It was one of eight mass shootings around the country in the last month that have left grief-stricken communities in shock. It's also the third mass killing in Alabama during that time.
Clemmons said a neighbor came across the street to the house Tuesday morning to visit but called authorities after seeing a body through glass in the door.
Clemmons said the divorce case appeared to be among the triggers of the violence.
"It wasn't just one particular thing, just everything happening at once," he said.
Court officials said the Garners had made an appearance in court Monday in advance of the trial, and nothing seemed unusual or indicated it would lead to killings.
"I just can't understand it," said Clemmons, "and with with a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old kid, there's nothing rational about it."
Jerry Knight, an attorney who represented Kevin Garner in the divorce case, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that Garner "had a terrific work ethic and value system. I was terribly shocked and saddened by this unexpected tragedy."
Kevin Garner had worked at a Decatur chemical plant and Tammy Garner had been employed at a Huntsville department store.
In the divorce file, Tammy Garner sought custody of their daughter and alleged that her husband "has been both physically and emotionally abusive." He accused her of adultery.
He also accused his wife of taking $38,000 out of their joint bank account when they separated May 27, 2008.
Along with Garner's two-story house, which collapsed in the fire, a green Subaru Legacy belonging to Garner's wife was found burned in the Morgan County community of Somerville, less than 10 miles from the burned house.
The five deaths follow the stabbing deaths of four people in a home in Hueytown, near Birmingham, on March 7, and the shooting deaths of 10 people on March 10 by a gunman in south Alabama who also took his own life.