2 families caught up in Virginia killing rampage


Published: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 at 7:21 a.m.

APPOMATTOX, Va. (AP) — Jonathan Quarles was the kind of guy who took in flying squirrels and turtles, then released them back to the wild. The kind of guy who gathered clothes and furniture for strangers when their house burned down.

Wife Karen often craved the Corner Grill's "Cheesy Western," a burger topped with a fried egg. And their 15-year-old daughter Emily had a new boyfriend, 16-year-old Bo Scruggs, who tangled with his mother over how long to wear his hair.

They weren't related to 39-year-old security guard Christopher Bryan Speight. Nor were they part of the dispute — real or imagined — that he had with his sister over a sprawling, 34-acre Appomattox estate the siblings had inherited.

Yet all four are dead, along with Speight's sister, brother-in-law, 15-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew.

Speight is jailed on one count of murder and likely to face more charges in the Tuesday morning rampage that killed all eight at the quiet country homestead he shared with 37-year-old Lauralee, her 38-year-old husband Dwayne Sipe and their children, Morgan Dobyns and Joshua Sipe.

Relatives and people who knew Speight say he had a history of mental breakdowns and may have become fixated on the notion that his sister wanted to oust him from the house passed down to them by their grandparents and mother. The family lawyer, however, says her intention was exactly the opposite: She planned to deed the property solely to him.

Police say Speight killed his victims, then fired on a police helicopter, escaped into the woods and held officers at bay for 18 hours before surrendering.

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

"He didn't take it good at all," Giglio said. "I don't think he ever reconciled it."

Lynchburg attorney Harry Devening, who handled legal matters for the family, said Speight had an apparent learning disability and history of mental problems, and "ran away" from his sister's Georgia home for several days during a breakdown in 2007, about a year after his mother died.

Giglio said Dwayne Sipe found him in a motel room along a highway. Even then the family had no reason to suspect Speight might turn violent. Giglio said he last spoke to Dwayne Sipe the Saturday before the shootings and everything seemed fine.

Devening said Lauralee Sipe perceived no problems either, signing a deed late last week to put the family property in Speight's name. She planned to record it at the courthouse immediately, he said, but both Friday and Monday were state holidays.

The lawyer cautioned her that she was giving up her half of the property.

"She said he was fine, he was normal, and she wasn't concerned about it," Devening said. As for her share, "it was never of any consequence to her. She was very happy with the arrangement."

Jail officials would not allow an Associated Press reporter to see Speight on Thursday and did not know if he had an attorney. No court date had been set.

The first funeral was set for Sunday for Morgan, who loved to cook and bake, and had planned to take culinary art classes next year.

Her mother, brother and stepfather, a Navy veteran who served as a gunner on the USS Wisconsin in Operation Desert Storm, will be remembered in a separate service Monday.

The Quarles family service is Tuesday, while one for Bo Scruggs, who was dating Emily Quarles, is still being planned.

Hair stylist Susanne Brent, 39, has cut the Scruggs' hair for the last two years, watching him squabble with his protective mother over how long he could wear it. He wanted a longer, skater-boy style, she said. Mom wanted it short.

"He was just a normal, average boy," said Brent, owner of the Hair Station. "It's just a horrible, tragic thing. I'm still reeling."

Brent's 14-year-old stepdaughter, Rachel McCormick, was friends with Scruggs, whom she saw regularly at a nearby roller rink.

"She's having a real rough time. She doesn't understand how things like this happen," Brent said. "Everybody's just walking around devastated. It's all anybody's talking about anywhere in town."

Abigail Schroeder, a waitress at the Corner Grill in the county of about 15,000, said the 43-year-old Quarles couple were regular customers because Emily's older sister Meghan Pritchard worked there about three years ago.

"I knew exactly what they ordered as soon as they walked in," Schroeder said — a grilled chicken salad with ranch dressing for Jon, the Cheesy Western and fries for Karen.

"Emily and Morgan were just in Monday," she said. "When everybody told us, we're just like, 'No, it's not Jon and Karen. No way.'

"And Meghan's getting married in a few months," she said. "All this big, good stuff was about to come up, and then something like this happens to her family."

Karen worked for Centra Health as a respiratory therapist for 11 years, Jon as a self-employed landscaper.

Bryan Baine, owner of Baine's Books & Coffee, has known the Quarles family for about five years and called Jon "a really happy, contented guy." They'd lived around the corner before building a home on the outskirts of town.

To handyman Tom Vorhees, Quarles was like a brother: His wife teased him about their "bromance."

He last saw Quarles on Saturday, as Vorhees was trying to lug heavy carpets into a Baine's mother's home. Quarles stopped his vehicle and helped.

"I said, 'Thanks a lot, you've helped me out today. I didn't know what I was going to do,'" Vorhees recalled. "I gave him a big bear hug, and he gave me a big hug.

"They were not just victims," he said. "They were my friends and family."

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