PRICEVILLE, Ala. – A man who police say shot and killed his estranged wife, their daughter and two other relatives before burning down his house and committing suicide on the eve of their divorce trial gave no hints of the mayhem to come, police and court officials say.
While Kevin Garner's wife accused him of being abusive in court filings, authorities said the 45-year-old chemical company worker gave no indication that their split could result in the violence that occurred Tuesday.
Garner's behavior didn't seem odd during a brief court appearance Monday, Circuit Judge Sherrie W. Paler said, and the divorce wasn't considered particularly contentious by courthouse workers or the lawyers who were involved.
"I was terribly shocked and saddened by this unexpected tragedy," said Jerry Knight, an attorney who represented Garner in the divorce, which was scheduled to go to trial Wednesday.
Knight, in an e-mail to The Associated Press, said Garner "had a terrific work ethic and value system."
Garner's body was found Tuesday afternoon near the remains of his Priceville home, which burned to the ground overnight.
Authorities believe that sometime around midnight Monday he used a handgun to shoot his estranged wife, Tammy, 40; their 16-year-old daughter, Chelsie; Garner's sister, Karen Beaty of Illinois; and Beaty's 11-year-old son, whose name was not released. Their bodies were found Tuesday in a home in Green Hill, a small community near the Tennessee line in rural north Alabama.
Court documents show Tammy Garner sought custody of their daughter and alleged that her husband "has been both physically and emotionally abusive." Karen Beaty sided with her brother's estranged wife in the case, and the two were staying together before the trial.
Kevin Garner, 45, accused her of adultery and of taking $38,000 out of their joint bank account when they separated May 27.
Michael Corley, chief deputy in Morgan County, where Garner's body was found, said Beaty and her son might have been on the witness list for the divorce case. He said investigators believe Garner was "unhappy" with the proceedings. He said the divorce was filed about a year ago but was just now coming up on the court docket.
"Now that we know the final end of it all it's just going back and putting the pieces together," Corley said. "We feel like this was solely a homicide, that he killed them, then went to the home. He used some type of accelerant that caused the home to burn very, very quickly, then walked about 200 yards back into a wooded area behind the house and took his life."
Garner apparently shot himself in the chest, said Travis Clemmons, chief investigator for the sheriff's office in Lauderdale County, where the four bodies were found. Officials did not know if Kevin Garner was licensed to carry a firearm.
It was one of eight mass killings around the country _ and the third in Alabama _ in the last month that have left grief-stricken communities in shock.
Clemmons said a neighbor visiting the Green Hill house Tuesday morning saw a body through the door and called authorities.
"I just can't understand it," he said, "and with a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old kid, there's nothing rational about it."
Kevin Garner had worked at a Decatur chemical plant and Tammy Garner at a department store.
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.