LOGAN, Ohio – A man repeatedly shot his adult son and two sisters-in-law in his living room, killing them in front of his terminally ill wife, then fatally shot himself on the front porch as family tension about the cancer-stricken woman's care apparently boiled over, authorities said.
An earlier dispute about whether the woman should have been fed tea and toast or the orange her husband had peeled for her apparently set off the shooter Monday, 63-year-old Paul Gilkey.
The Logan man spared his wife and allowed his grown stepson to leave unharmed, Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North said Tuesday. The stepson drove away from the property, a house on a wooded hillside in rural southeastern Ohio, to seek a cellphone signal and call for help.
"He let me leave because I have kids," the stepson, Ralph Sowers III, says in the recorded 911 call.
The sick woman, 59-year-old Darlene Gilkey, witnessed the shootings from a hospital bed in her living room but wasn't injured, the sheriff said. The family friction escalated into violence in the evening when Paul Gilkey went to a bedroom, retrieved a semiautomatic handgun and began threatening relatives, North said.
Autopsies showed that Darlene Gilkey's sister Barbara Mohler, 70, of New Straitsville, was shot twice in the head at close range, and another sister, 63-year-old Dorothy Cherry of New Plymouth, was shot in the head and chest, Hocking County Coroner Dave Cummin said. The Gilkeys' son, 38-year-old Leroy Gilkey of Columbus, was killed with three close shots to the head, Cummin said.
Sowers told an emergency dispatcher that Gilkey shot one of the women first, then turned the gun toward his own son.
"He tried to shoot my brother, and my brother was hiding behind me. And then he kept telling me to `Duck! Duck! Duck!"' Sowers said. He said eventually Gilkey reached the gun past him and fired, and Leroy Gilkey dropped to the ground.
Paul Gilkey later shot himself in the chest, the coroner said.
Afterward, his body stayed upright on the porch that's viewable from the end of the sloped gravel driveway, but the darkness made it difficult to tell whether he was alive, North said. Deputies who stormed the home around 9 p.m. found Gilkey dead and three more bodies on the living room floor.
Sowers, the stepson, said he initially feared Gilkey might have fled the home. He told dispatchers his stepfather had a history of violence.
Gilkey, known as David or Dave because he went by his middle name, served a decade in prison beginning in 1974 for killing a man in Athens County in May of that year, according to court records. He also had a 1986 arrest for felonious assault, according to the sheriff.
He had not worked for several years because of a workplace injury, his sister-in-law Peggy Gilkey said.
She and other relatives said Paul Gilkey had been stressed and upset while trying his best to care for his ailing wife.
"He was really trying to take care of her, but he felt like people weren't letting him," Peggy Gilkey said. He felt as though his wife's relatives were taking over her care, and he was upset because items were being taken from the home, she said.
She said her brother-in-law probably let his wife live because he loved her so much. The couple had divorced in 1975, shortly after he went to prison, but remarried a few years ago, she said.
Gilkey's cousin Matthew Henderson said his own wife happened to call the home after the shooting and spoke with Darlene Gilkey, who said her husband "shot everybody" before going outside.
Henderson said his cousin recently bought two or three plots at a cemetery, though it didn't seem unusual for a man whose wife had terminal cancer. He described Gilkey as unpredictable and unstable.
Darlene Gilkey was receiving hospice care through a company in nearby Lancaster, whose chief executive declined to comment Tuesday because of privacy restrictions. Investigators said she was taken to a hospital after the shootings rattled the normally quiet area.
Barbara Mohler had worked several miles south of the shooting site at the local Walmart for more than a decade. Employees there were grieving Tuesday and extending their condolences to relatives of Mohler, who worked in the bakery, Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie said.
Leroy Gilkey was a high school Spanish teacher in the Westerville school district in suburban Columbus, where he was well loved by students and colleagues, a district spokesman said.