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Man Surrenders in Virginia Killings

Published: January 20, 2010

Just days before Christopher B. Speight surrendered to the police in connection with the killings of eight people in Appomattox County, Va., on Tuesday, co-workers said they had noticed that he had seemed sullen and on edge when he showed up for his job as a security guard at a small grocery store.

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Steve Helber/Associated Press

The suspect, Christopher B. Speight, surrendered to the police on Wednesday after a 20-hour standoff in Appomattox County, Va.

Steve Helber/Associated Press

Investigators on Wednesday combed the farmhouse where most of the bodies were found.

Mr. Speight, 39, had been distant since his mother died of cancer in 2006, they said, but in recent months he was increasingly angry with family members who he believed were trying to steal the farmhouse that his mother had bequeathed to him.

“On Saturday, he was here, and he wouldn’t come inside. He wouldn’t talk to anybody,” said Tonya Maddox, a cashier at the store. “We joked that he was going to shoot someone.”

And, according to the police, that is what he did. All of those he killed were either family members or friends of the family, the police said.

After shooting the eight, they said, Mr. Speight fired at arriving officers and forced a police helicopter to land after hitting it with at least four rounds from a high-powered rifle. A 20-hour standoff ended Wednesday morning when Mr. Speight, unarmed and wearing a bulletproof vest, emerged from hiding in a thick wooded patch near his farm.

The police said they had charged Mr. Speight with first-degree murder and other charges might follow as their investigation proceeds.

Late Wednesday, the police identified the eight victims, who included Lauralee Sipe, 38, Mr. Speight’s sister, with whom he lived; her daughter, Morgan L. Dobyns, 15; Ms. Sipe’s husband, Dwayne S. Sipe, 38; and the couple’s son, Joshua Sipe, 4. Other victims were Jonathan L. Quarles, 43, of Appomattox; his wife, Karen Quarles, 43, of Appomattox; their daughter, Emily A. Quarles, 15, of Appomattox; and Ronald I. Scruggs II, 16, of Dillwyn, Va.

At the brown colonial-style house, where most of the bodies were found, the only sign of the violence that took place was yellow crime-scene tape stretched across a neatly landscaped front yard and evidence flags in the nearby woods.

A child’s bike and a portable basketball hoop lay near the front door, indicators of life interrupted.

The county’s four schools were closed Wednesday, but school officials said classes would resume Thursday. The police called in the bomb squad to search in and around Mr. Speight’s house, fearing it might be rigged with explosives. Officers could be heard detonating explosives they had found at the house.

Mr. Speight’s neighbor Tammy Randolph said she was glad there were not more casualties.

On Tuesday, Ms. Randolph said she had been driving home with her mother and her 6-month-old son when she noticed the body of a man soaked in blood lying face-down in the road.

“I knew something was really strange,” said Ms. Randolph, 29, adding that after finding the first body, she tried to run to Mr. Speight’s house to call for help but turned back when she came across a second bloodied body in the road.

Roger Harris, 36, a mechanic and farmer who works on the property adjacent to Mr. Speight’s, said he was accustomed to hearing guns. Mr. Speight often liked to engage in target practice at night, Mr. Harris said.

But Mr. Harris said he was stunned Tuesday afternoon when dozens of police cars, sirens blaring, stopped at the woods nearby and a police helicopter hovered overhead. This time the gunfire seemed to be directed at the police.

“He was right over that tree line,” Mr. Harris said of the gunman. “That’s where he was shooting. He knew what he was doing.”

Told by the police to stay in his home, Mr. Harris crouched near his back window and watched as four shots hit the helicopter, which made an emergency landing in his field.

A relative of Mr. Speight’s who answered the phone at the home of Mr. Speight’s uncle Jack Giglio said she was sickened by the news. She said Mr. Speight had last been seen by many members of the family at his mother’s funeral. Co-workers said Mr. Speight was a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

“We’re really upset by this, but we didn’t know him well,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Ian Urbina reported from Washington, and Theo Emery from Appomattox, Va.

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