Uncle: No Sign of Trouble From Va. Killing Suspect

Speight's sister, niece and nephew among the dead

By Vicki Smith and Harry R. Weber
|  Thursday, Jan 21, 2010  |  Updated 7:32 PM EDT
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Uncle: No Sign of Trouble From Va. Killing Suspect

Christopher Speight

A security guard accused of killing his sister and seven other people during a rampage never recovered from his mother's death several years ago, his uncle said Thursday.

Christopher Speight, 39, was charged late Wednesday with one count of murder and is likely to face additional charges.

The victims of Tuesday morning's rampage included Speight's sister, Lauralee Sipe, along with Sipe's husband, 15-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. The others were the 15-year-old's friend and her parents, who were either dropping off or picking up their daughter, and a third teen.

Speight had struggled since his mother died from brain cancer in 2006, uncle Thomas Giglio said Thursday. Speight's father abandoned them some 30 years ago, and he and his mother were very close.

"There was a problem with him after his mother died," Speight's uncle, Thomas Giglio of South Boston, Va., said in a phone interview. "He didn't take it good at all. I don't think he ever reconciled it."

Police have refused to offer a motive for the slayings, but David Anderson, who owns a market where Speight sometimes worked as a security guard, said Speight was worried about being turned out of the house where the killings took place. He co-owned it with Sipe.

Speight never wanted to talk about it, but he "constantly paced the floor," said Anderson, co-owner of the Sunshine Market grocery store in Lynchburg. "I thought he was going to wear a trench in it."

Giglio said he had no indication that there were any concerns about Speight living in the house.

"This was his family," Giglio said. "These were the people that loved him the most, that would do anything for him. Why? It's absolutely cornball. It makes no sense. There's no logic to it."

Lynchburg attorney Henry Devening, who handled legal matters for Speight's family, also said Thursday he does not understand how Speight could have thought anyone was throwing him out. He said Speight's sister was trying to do right by him, last week signing a deed that put the Appomattox property in his name as their grandparents had asked in a 2006 trust.

Speight had lived with and helped care for his grandparents, "and they felt that he should get the property,'' Devening said. "I think they just concluded he was never going to be engaged in productive employment.''

Though his relationship with the family was all business, Devening described Lauralee Sipe as a great person.

"My relationship with these folks was purely business, but Lauralee was a great person," Devening said. "Very motivated to take care of the family. I can't imagine why he would turn on her."

Police found all of the bodies in or near the house. Speight gave himself up to police early Wednesday after leading investigators on an 18-hour manhunt through the woods.

Police said he fired several times at a state police helicopter, rupturing its fuel tank and forcing it to land near the shooting scene. A bomb squad found explosives in the home, and crews were detonating the devices into the night.

State police identified the victims as Lauralee and Dewayne Sipe, both 38. Devening said they were husband and wife and 15-year-old Morgan Dobyns was Lauralee's daughter from a previous marriage. Also killed was Lauralee and Dewayne's son, 4-year-old Joshua Sipe, and 15-year-old Emily Quarles, a friend of Morgan's, along with her parents, Karen and Jonathan Quarles, both 43. The eighth victim, 16-year-old Ronald "Bo" Scruggs, was Emily's boyfriend.

Abigail Schroeder, a 23-year-old waitress at the Corner Grill in quiet, downtown Appomattox, said members of the Quarles family were regulars because Emily's older sister Megan worked there about three years ago.

"Emily and Morgan were just in Monday," Schroeder said. "And Megan's getting married in a few months. ...It's just hard right now. All this big, good stuff was about to come up, and then something like this happens to her family."

The three teenagers were students at Appomattox County High School. Dorinda Grasty, superintendent of the Appomattox County school system, said crisis teams and guidance counselors were at all of the county's schools Thursday assisting grieving students.

"This horrific tragedy will leave a tremendous scar and willful pain in the lives of all of our students and staff in our school system," Grasty said.

Meanwhile, the community tried to make sense of the killings.

Friends described Speight as a gun enthusiast but said he did not seem to have violent tendencies.

"I am a dependable, hardworking person, not quick to anger, and find ways to get out of problems without using force or violence,''
Speight wrote in a 1995 application for a concealed weapons permit in Appomattox County, which he renewed in 1997, 1999 and 2004.

Rob Pearson, who owned a Lynchburg restaurant where Speight worked as a busboy and bar assistant during the 1990s, wrote a
character reference letter for Speight's first application.

Pearson said Thursday that Speight always had a fascination with weapons, even bringing in a BB gun to shoot down stray helium
balloons from the restaurant's ceilings after kids' birthday parties.

"I wasn't completely shocked when I picked up the newspaper,'' said Pearson, who lost touch with Speight five years ago.

Giglio said he knew Speight had guns but was surprised to learn police said the house had been rigged with explosive devices they
spent much of Wednesday and Thursday detonating.

When he last spoke to Dewayne Sipe, part of their discussion was about Lauralee's plans to move her grandmother from a Georgia
retirement home to the farm in Virginia to live with them.

"It's all gone,'' Giglio said. "That's over.''

_______

Weber reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Zinie Chen Sampson, Larry O'Dell and Dena Potter in Appomattox and Tim Huber in Charleston, W.Va., contributed to this report.

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