UPDATE: Police check for explosives after arrest
By BILL McKELWAY AND REED WILLIAMS
Published: January 19, 2010
Updated: January 20, 2010
APPOMATTOX — Bomb squad members today combed the home and surrounding property of a man suspected of killing eight people and attempting to shoot down a Virginia State Police helicopter before surrendering without incident early this morning.
Christopher B. Speight, 39, “managed to conceal himself overnight in the wooded area” guarded by officers before surrendering at 7:10 a.m., said Appomattox Sheriff O. Wilson Staples. He was unarmed, though authorities said they believed he used a high-powered rifle, and was wearing a bulletproof vest.
With the capture made, crime scene technicians, bomb squad members and SWAT officers combed the log cabin-style home on Snapps Mill Road/state Route 703 and a large area surrounding the dwelling.
Staples and Corinne Geller, a State Police spokeswoman, said that based on the initial investigation by authorities, police have “reason to believe” there could be explosives in the house or outside.
Speight was an owner of the residence and a large amount of surrounding land, Geller said.
A mass casualty unit from the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke has been assigned to the case, Wilson said.
“This is probably the worst tragedy in Virginia since the Virginia Tech massacre,“ said Geller.
Police repeated that Speight was acquainted with the victims but declined to specify their relationships, citing the ongoing investigation. Geller also said that positive identifications of the victims had not been made. Police have said the victims were males and females. A member of the county Board of Supervisors said last night the victims included Speight’s wife, son and another teenage boy, but two acquaintances said Speight was not married and had no children.
“Speight’s motives are still under investigation,“ Staples said. “Charges are pending.“
But in interviews with the Lynchburg News & Advance and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a co-owner of a Lynchburg market where Speight occasionally worked as a security guard described him as recently troubled over a dispute involving his home and land, which he inherited along with his sister from his mother. Connie Anderson said Speight had a married sister who at some point had moved into the house with him.
“Chris felt like they were trying to get him out of the house, and it was his (house), too,“ said Anderson, the co-owner of Sunshine Market, where Speight, employed by Old Dominion Security, was described by an employee as a good security officer who seemed to have changed after leaving for about five months following the death of his mother in 2006.
“He seemed like a zombie when he came back to the job,“ Tonya Maddox, a cashier, told the Times-Dispatch. “My boss was joking around. He said, ‘He’ll probably kill us all,‘“ Maddox said.
Anderson told the Lynchburg newspaper that Speight was a veteran of the military, a gun collector and “very skilled with weapons.“ Anderson said she has known Speight about five years and that she and her husband, David, both have concealed weapons permits and have been to Speight’s home in Appomattox for target practice.
“It’s very sad that it happened, I’m just shocked,“ she said. “I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to believe it.“
Anderson said Speight talked to her husband Saturday night about an apparent family dispute involving the home.
Speight has had a concealed weapons permit issued in Appomattox County since 1999, according to court records. His most recent application for the permit was filed Jan 6, 2009, and “seen and agreed to” by Appomattox County Commonwealth’s Attorney Darrel W. Puckett and approved by a Circuit Court judge. On the permit, Speight answered no to questions asking if he had ever been convicted of a felony or committed for mental illness. Accompanying documentation for the permit showed he had received firearms “retraining” in June 2003 from the Liberty University Police Department.
A check of area court records showed no offenses other than traffic violations.
The Associated Press reported that Speight’s uncle, Jack Giglio of Tampa, Fla., said his nephew was a deer hunter, though as far as he knew Speight did not have any specialized weapons training.
“We’re shocked, of course,“ Giglio told the AP. “I’m not aware of any problems with him. It’s kind of out of the blue. We’re still trying to pick up facts too.“
Giglio said he hadn’t seen Speight since 2006, when they both attended the funeral for Speight’s mother, who died of brain cancer.
The announcement of Speight’s surrender was made by Staples, who smiled broadly as he stepped up to a microphone at a quickly arranged news conference at 7:25 outside a State Police command post.
Authorities said that even with the capture, schools would remain closed for the day as previously announced by the sheriff, “out of an abundance of caution.“ About 2,000 students are enrolled in the public schools. Also closed was Cornerstone Christian Academy, which is nearby the crime scene.
Police last night established a search perimeter that ran two miles east-west and about 1,000 yards north-south between Snapps Mill Road and state Route 613/Police Tower Road and said they were confident that Speight was in the area, which is where the shots on the helicopter originated. At at 5 a.m. news conference today, police repeated that they believed Speight was within the perimeter.
After the capture, the focus turned to the crime scene, a log cabin-style home with children’s toys in the yard. About 100 law officers, many in camouflage and body armor, were searching the home and yard.
One victim was found in the the road yesterday, four bodies were outside the residence and three were inside, Geller said. Police said the victim found injured on Snapps Mill died at Lynchburg General Hospital.
About noon Tuesday, Appomattox County emergency dispatchers received a call about a man lying in Snapps Mill Road who needed medical attention. When police arrived, they heard more gunshots, which sparked calls for assistance from neighboring counties. About an hour and a half later, a State Police helicopter sustained four shots, including at least once in a fuel line, forcing it to land. There were no injuries.
(Media General News Service contributed to this report.)