BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — Head in hands, his voice strained, Vincent Mitchell sat outside his little yellow home and tried to make sense of how a family dispute led to a rampage that killed eight people, including the deputy who tried to keep them safe.
“I’m devastated. It don’t seem like it’s real,” Mitchell said shortly after the arrest of his stepson-in-law, Willie Corey Godbolt. “Him and my stepdaughter, they’ve been going back and forth for a couple of years with that domestic violence.”
Godbolt showed up at Mitchell’s home in the southern Mississippi town of Bogue Chitto shortly before midnight Saturday to demand that his estranged wife give up their two children. She and the kids had been staying with them for about three weeks, Mitchell told The Associated Press.
“He’d come to get his kids. The deputy was called,” and asked him to leave, and it seemed like Godbolt would comply at first, Mitchell said.
“He acted like, motioned like, he was fixing to go. Then he reached in his back pocket and grabbed a gun,” Mitchell said. “He just started shooting everything.”
Mitchell said he escaped along with Godbolt’s wife, but Mitchell’s wife, her sister and one of the wife’s daughters were killed. Also slain was Deputy William Durr, a two-year sheriff’s department veteran and former police officer in nearby Brookhaven, where authorities said Godbolt fled and killed four more people at two other homes.
Authorities on Monday said Godbolt was related to or acquainted with all the victims except Durr. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation identified them as: Barbara Mitchell, 55; Brenda May, 53; Tocarra May, 35; a child who was not identified; a 17-year-old boy who was not identified; Ferral Burage, 45; and Shelia Burage, 46.
Police have not said exactly how Godbolt knew them. A member of Godbolt’s church previously told the AP that everyone but the deputy was related to Godbolt by blood or marriage.
Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said prosecutors plan to charge Godbolt, 35, with one count of capital murder and seven counts of first degree murder, but authorities haven’t discussed a motive. Strain said those charges could change as the investigation continues.
Godbolt was still hospitalized Monday at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Police have said Godbolt is being treated for a gunshot wound.
Godbolt himself shed some light on what happened, in an interview he gave to The Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/2rbQIq5 ) as he sat with his hands cuffed behind his back on the side of a road in Brookhaven, about 70 miles (110 kilometres) south of Jackson.
“I was having a conversation with her stepdaddy and her mama and her, my wife, about me taking my children home,” he said. “Somebody called the officer, people that didn’t even live at the house. That’s what they do. They intervene.”
“They cost him his life,” he said, apparently referring to Durr. “I’m sorry.”
“My pain wasn’t designed for him. He was just there,” Godbolt said. “I ain’t fit to live, not after what I done.”
Godbolt was hospitalized in good condition with a gunshot wound, though it wasn’t clear who shot him.
“Everybody that got killed was related to him, except the deputy,” said Johnny Hall Sr., a longtime member of the New Zion Union M.B. Church in Bogue Chitto, not far from the initial crime scene, where he said Godbolt also was a member.
At least seven hours elapsed between the first shootings and Godbolt’s arrest near the final crime scene, in a subdivision of ranch houses.
“It breaks everybody’s heart,” said Garrett Smith, a 19-year-old college student who went to high school with one of the victims. “Everybody knows everybody for the most part.”
Durr, 36, was married and had an 11-year-old son, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said.
Durr’s mother spoke briefly with the AP on Monday, saying that the family is still in distress.
“He was a good Christian man,” Debbie Durr said at her rural home near Brookhaven. “He was a youth minister and a pastor before going into law enforcement.”
Off duty, Durr also was a ventriloquist who took his puppets to schools and churches. Two weeks ago, Durr entertained preschoolers at Brookhaven Academy, a Christian school in town. The message he shared was that — like fireflies — people can use their inner light to help those around them.
“His character: top-notch,” said Page Nelson, the school’s elementary principal.
Godbolt had a different message — he said he hadn’t planned to be captured alive.
“My intentions was to have God kill me. I ran out of bullets,” he said. “Suicide by cop was my intention.”
Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeff Amy in Metairie, Louisiana; Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles; and Kathleen Foody in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Kevin McGill And Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press