BROOKHAVEN, Miss. – A man accused of killing eight people at three houses in Mississippi swapped cars several times as he fled the crimes, eluding officers tracking him across the rural county, a sheriff said Tuesday.
Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said his small department got help trying to capture Willie Corey Godbolt but had no way to know where he would show up next.
"We have no magic ball to see which way he's going," Rushing said.
The initial call to remove a person involved in a domestic dispute at a home seemed run-of-the-mill when it came in about 11:30 Saturday night, the sheriff said. His department had dealt with Godbolt before — arresting him for disturbing the peace and simple assault.
"We've handled calls like that a thousand times," he said. "At some point, it went really bad."
Deputy William Durr was the first to respond, with a second officer following a few minutes behind, according to Rushing. The department of about 20 full-time officers covers a county that's more than 500 square miles, so responding to a call can take some time, he said.
Witnesses say Godbolt had gone to a Bogue Chitto home to demand that his estranged wife give up their two children and seemed like he was going to comply when the deputy asked him to leave but then opened fire.
Durr was killed, as were three others at that house. Authorities said Godbolt, 35, fled and killed four more people at two other homes. Aside from the deputy, they were all relatives or acquaintances of the man accused of the shooting.
Rushing said two other sheriff's departments and the highway patrol were helping to capture Godbolt but tracking him was difficult because he changed vehicles three or four times.
"You didn't know where he was going from there because he was leaving so quick," he said.
At least seven hours elapsed between the first shootings and Godbolt's arrest near the final crime scene, in a subdivision of ranch houses.
Investigators said Godbolt will be charged with one count of capital murder and seven counts of first-degree murder. Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said the charges could change as the investigation continues.
Godbolt had been hospitalized for a gunshot wound and was released Tuesday; it wasn't clear who shot him, but investigators say it wasn't the police. He was waiting for an initial court appearance to be scheduled.
Brookhaven is a south Mississippi city surrounded by pine trees and rolling green pastures. The outbreak of violence has shaken the county of 34,500 residents.
Caleb Edwards, 15, said it was after midnight when Godbolt burst into the home where he and other young people were playing video games.
Caleb said the man demanded to know where his cousin's parents were. Jordan Blackwell, 18, said they were gone to another town.
At that, Godbolt "just started shooting," Caleb said.
As people scrambled to hide inside the Brookhaven home, Blackwell used his own body to shield his cousin Caleb from the gunfire.
With his mother standing by his side Monday, Caleb spoke calmly as he recounted to The Associated Press how he felt the force of the impact as Blackwell was shot Sunday.
"He loved me enough to take some bullets for me," Caleb said.
Caleb's 11-year-old brother, Austin Edwards, was also shot to death in that living room early Sunday.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation identified some of the slain as Barbara Mitchell, 55; Brenda May, 53; Tocarra May, 35; Ferral Burage, 45; Shelia Burage, 46; and Deputy William Durr, 36. The parents of Austin Edwards and Jordan Blackwell identified their sons as the other victims.
Funeral services for the victims have been scheduled over several days starting Thursday.
Godbolt told The Clarion-Ledger that he hadn't planned to be captured alive.
"My intentions was to have God kill me. I ran out of bullets," he said. "Suicide by cop was my intention."
Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.