APPOMATTOX, Va. — Bomb technicians discovered a “multitude” of explosives Wednesday at the home of a man suspected in the shooting deaths of eight people, and crews were detonating the devices as more details about the gunman came to light.
Christopher Bryan Speight, a 39-year-old security guard, surrendered to police at daybreak Wednesday after leading authorities on an 18-hour manhunt following the shootings at a house in rural central Virginia where deputies found a mortally wounded man and seven bodies.
As of late Wednesday, bomb squads had found and detonated seven explosives. The blasting was expected to continue into Thursday.
Speight had no weapons when he surrendered shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday wearing a bulletproof vest over a black fleece jacket, camouflage pants and mud-caked boots.
Neither the sheriff nor a state police spokeswoman would disclose what Speight said when he gave up.
Authorities remained tightlipped on most details surrounding the slayings, including any possible motive. Nor did they immediately identify any of the victims or their relationship to the suspect. Authorities would say only that he knew his victims.
Speight, who was jailed while awaiting charges, co-owned and lived in the home where some of the bodies were found.
Reporters were allowed to see the home Wednesday. The two-story house had a big patio, where there was furniture, a children’s bicycle and a plastic basketball hoop. The yard was landscaped and well-manicured.
Neighbour Monte W. Mays said Speight’s mother deeded the house to Speight and his sister in 2006, shortly before she died of brain cancer.
Mays, the county’s retired commissioner of accounts, said Speight was a good neighbour. They waved as they passed each other on the road and sent their dogs out to play with one another.
“All the dealings I’ve ever had with him have been cordial and polite,” Mays said. “We got along fine.”
Speight long had been a gun enthusiast and enjoyed target shooting at a range on his property, Mays said. But the shooting recently became a daily occurrence, with Speight firing what Mays said were high-powered and automatic rifles.
“Then we noticed he was doing it at nighttime,” and the gunfire started going deeper into the woods, Mays said.
Mays said the entire community is devastated and wondering what triggered the slayings.
“The only one who’s going to know now is Chris,” he said.
David Anderson, co-owner of the Sunshine Market grocery store in Lynchburg, where Speight sometimes provided security, said Speight was worried that his sister and brother-in-law wanted to kick him out of the house.
Speight never wanted to talk about it, but he “constantly paced the floor,” Anderson said. “I thought he was going to wear a trench in it.”
Police were alerted to the bloodbath when they found the mortally wounded man on the side of a road. Then sheriff’s deputies discovered seven more bodies — three inside the house and four just outside.
When officers converged on the area, the suspected shooter fired a high-powered rifle at a state police helicopter, rupturing its gas tank and forcing it to land.
The shots revealed his location, and more than 100 police swarmed into the woods until Speight gave up the following morning.
Police said Speight appeared to have had weapons training, but there was no information suggesting he had served in the military.
Speight’s uncle, Jack Giglio of Tampa, Fla., told The Associated Press that his nephew was a deer hunter, but as far as he knew Speight did not have any specialized weapons training. Giglio said he had not seen Speight since 2006, when both attended the funeral for Speight’s mother, who died of brain cancer.
“We’re shocked, of course,” Giglio said. “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.”
Appomattox County court records show a concealed weapons permit was issued to a Christopher Bryan Speight three times between 1999 and last year.
The shootings were the talk of the lunch counter Wednesday at the local Citgo gas station. But owner Mark Drinkard did not recall ever seeing Speight.
Dakota Henderson, a junior at Appomattox High School, said he had met Speight a few times and had dinner with him, but found nothing odd about the man. “He’s an all right guy,” Henderson said.
Even after Speight surrendered, the anxiety continued.
“You feel uneasy whenever you hear anything like that, whether it’s in your backyard or 50 miles away,” said bank executive Dawn Tolley, lunching at the Granny Bee’s Restaurant.
The county’s four schools remained closed for the day, the high school flag at half-staff, while administrators planned to bring in grief counsellors.
Superintendent Dorinda Grasty could not confirm whether any of her students were among the dead but said school officials “anticipate that there will be students from our division that were involved.”
Sheriff O. Wilson Staples was out of the county notifying victims’ relatives and was unavailable for comment.
Appomattox is known mainly for its history: Here, 100 miles (160 kilometres) southwest of Richmond, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end the Civil War.
“This is a horrific tragedy,” said state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. “It’s definitely one of the worst mass killings in Virginia, probably since the Virginia Tech tragedy.”
Associated Press writers Larry O’Dell and Zinie Chen Sampson in Appomattox, Tim Huber in Charleston, West Virginia, and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta contributed to this report.