Metro Atlanta / State News 7:14 a.m. Monday, March 29, 2010

GBI: Husband shot ex-senator, then self

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The husband of a former state senator shot his wife before turning the gun on himself in the couple's Habersham County home, the GBI said Saturday night.

A handgun and several letters, including a suicide note written by Bruce Schaefer to family members, were found in the home he shared with Nancy Schaefer, his spouse and the one-time Georgia politician, according to John Bankhead, GBI spokesman.

"A GBI medical examiner determined that Mrs. Schaefer died from a single gunshot wound to the back and Mr. Schaefer died from a single gunshot wound to the chest," Bankhead said in a statement.

Autopsies on the Schaefers were conducted Saturday afternoon, and investigators said all evidence indicates the deaths were a murder-suicide.

“We’ve got some evidence of why it was done,” Sheriff Joey Terrell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Why it happened? That question will never be answered.”

The bodies of Bruce and Nancy Schaefer, 74 and 73, respectively, were found Friday evening around 6 p.m. by their daughter at the couple’s Clarkesville home. The daughter, one of the Schaefers’ five children, lived in the same gated community as her parents and entered the home when she was unable to reach them. After finding her parents dead in their bedroom, the woman called 9-1-1.

The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office requested the assistance of the GBI, which sent several investigators to the crime scene Friday evening.

Roger Harvey, a nephew of Nancy and Bruce Schaefer, released a statement to the AJC on behalf of the couple’s five children.

“We are grieving over this indescribable loss of our parents who we all adored,” the family statement said. “Our parents were extremely loving and caring people who took great joy in helping those in need.”

News of the Schaefers’ deaths spread quickly at the state Capitol Friday evening. Several legislators offered their condolences following the death of a woman known for her conservative, Christian values, her large family and long-time marriage.

Sen. Don Thomas of Dalton, a friend of the Schaefers, said Friday evening that he believed Bruce Schaefer had an illness, possibly cancer. The family declined to discuss specifics about the couple.

“In those moments, you are not at your complete sanity,” Sen. Don Thomas of Dalton, a friend of the Schaefers, said Friday night. “Some people figure the best way is to end it for both of you. They were married for so long. Loved each other so much. When you see somebody that you love so much, every now and then, you think the best way out of it is to go and be with the Lord.”

Several notes written by Bruce Schaefer were left behind.

But the Schaefers' daughter told  Sheriff Terrell that Bruce Schaefer was not suffering from any serious illnesses at the time of the shootings, the Gainesville Times reported. Authorities were unaware of Nancy Schaefer, 73, having any major health problems, Terrell said.

Terrell told the Times that financial problems could have contributed to the shootings.

"Some financial problems were mentioned [in the notes]," Terrell said. "That might have been one reason."

A two-term senator, Nancy Schaefer lost her seat in 2008 to Habersham County Commission Chairman Jim Butterworth in a north Georgia Republican runoff. She represented the 50th district, including Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Rabun, Stephens, and Towns counties, and part of White County.

During the family’s 35 years in Atlanta, Schaefer was a candidate for Atlanta mayor, Georgia lieutenant governor and governor.

The daughter of a North Georgia Superior Court Judge and granddaughter of a state legislator, Nancy Schaefer became visible to the public in 1985, when she organized a constitutional liberties rally in Atlanta. In 1986, she founded Schaefer Family Concerns, Inc., a nonprofit foundation dedicated to issues such as display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and opposition to abortion.

Nancy Schaefer worked on the campaign team for former New York Republican Jack Kemp, who ran for president in 1988. During Kemp’s campaign, Schaefer met Rusty Paul, former head of the state Republican Party and State Senator from North Fulton.

“[With] her passion and tenacity, she was unyielding in her beliefs about what was important,” Paul said Saturday. “She was one of the leaders in trying to get fundamental Christians actively engaged in the political process.”

Schaefer was the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor in 1994. In 1998, she sought the GOP nomination for governor. Her political involvement also extended to the United Nations, where she represented both Family Concerns and the Southern Baptist Convention at various conferences.

Schaefer will likely be best remembered for efforts to blur the lines between politics and religion.

Sadie Fields, who chairs the Georgia Christian Alliance, first met and became friends with Schaefer during the latter’s Atlanta mayoral run. Fields, who saw the Schaefers at a luncheon a few weeks ago, described her friend as dedicated and unflappable in her commitment to the causes she championed.

“Nancy was a stalwart of conservative causes in Georgia,” Fields said. “As long as I’ve known her, she stood for what she believed in and never backed down. She was the epitome of the Southern gentlewoman. She handled everything with grace and was the epitome of the quintessential steel magnolia.”

Funeral arrangements for the Schaefers have not been announced.

Staff writers Peralte Paul and Ernie Suggs contributed to this report

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