A Kentucky gunman killed his parents, his girlfriend and his girlfriend’s mother at two locations Saturday afternoon in Johnson County, before turning the gun on himself, state police said Sunday.
Cops released the victims’ names and their relationships with the shooter, Joseph Nickell.
Nickell’s parents, James and Arlene Nickell, were gunned down Saturday at a home in the McKenzie Branch area of Flatgap, Kentucky, and Joseph Nickell’s girlfriend, Lindsey Vanhoose, and her mother, Patricia Vanhoose, later were fatally shot at an apartment in nearby Paintsville, State Police Trooper William Petry said in a statement.
Johnson County Sheriff Dwayne Price said Joseph Nickell’s body also was found at the apartment in what investigators described as a murder-suicide.
Price said authorities in Paintsville, about 190 miles east of Louisville, received a 911 call on Saturday afternoon about a shooting and the Nickell parents were found dead in the kitchen of the home. After receiving a tip on the whereabouts of a suspect’s vehicle, the other two victims and Nickell were found later at the apartment complex, Price said.
Authorities didn’t give a motive for the shootings, which remain under investigation.
The Nickell family’s pastor told The Lexington Herald Leader that he had struggled with drug addiction for years.
James Kelly Caudill, pastor at Tom’s Branch Free Will Baptist Church, said Nickell had been through treatment, but seemed to suffer a setback after his sister, Becki, died several months ago, according to the Herald Leader.
“This boy … he just never did really get over that. I think it just inflamed his addiction,” Caudill told the Herald Leader. “It just come to a head.”
He and his parents attended morning and evening worship services together Feb. 4. That night, Nickell sat between his parents on the front pew, but was “out of it” on some substance, Caudill said.
Nickell blurted out unknown words during the service, and his mother calmed him, Caudill said.
“This has been a horrific murder spree,” Price said in a Facebook post Saturday night. “There are no words to describe the heartbreak in seeing four lives taken due to the actions of one man. I have worked in law enforcement for 34 years. This is one of the most disturbing acts of violence I have ever seen.”
Price said later in another Facebook post: “Working a murder is never easy. Working the murders of four innocent people that are part of your community is even tougher.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.