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Man Kills Mother, 3 Others In Fairfax

This home in Great Falls, where three victims and the gunman died, is in a quiet, secluded neighborhood. Renters were living in the home, it was believed.
This home in Great Falls, where three victims and the gunman died, is in a quiet, secluded neighborhood. Renters were living in the home, it was believed. "There were a lot of cars coming and going," one neighbor said. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Tom Jackman and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 26, 2005

A man shot his mother to death in McLean yesterday, then headed for a secluded house in Great Falls, where he killed three more people before taking his own life, law enforcement sources said. The Christmas morning killings appeared to be the deadliest outbreak of violence in Fairfax County in many years.

The first shooting occurred on Lewinsville Road near Tysons Corner, and the subsequent killings were about eight miles away on Sycamore Springs Lane, a semirural neighborhood of large homes on heavily wooded five-acre lots, where neighbors cherish their privacy.

There was no immediate information on a motive in the killings, police said, although all of those involved appeared to be acquainted with one another. The gunman "did know the people involved," a police spokesman said.

"It is bizarre," Officer Richard Henry said. "It's just a weird thing."

Law enforcement sources attributed the killings to Nathan Cheatham, 27, who, according to property records, had an apartment in the house where his mother, Sheila Cheatham, 53, lived, in the 8500 block of Lewinsville Road.

Those killed at the Great Falls home, which is in the northwest corner of Fairfax near the Loudoun County line, were identified only as two men and a woman. Their relationships to each other and to Nathan Cheatham could not be learned last night.

According to public records, Nathan Cheatham had been convicted in recent years of minor assault and concealed-weapon charges and had been arrested on drug charges.

Susan Retter, who, like Sheila Cheatham, operated or had operated a day-care center, knew Nathan some time ago and described him as a gifted artist who "always had trouble controlling his emotions." She said she knew nothing of his recent activities.

Law enforcement sources said Sheila Cheatham was apparently in front of her home when she was shot.

"The only thing I know is I heard shots," said a woman who declined to give her name. "I heard five shots."

She called the Lewinsville Road community "a wonderful neighborhood." It embraces winding, tree-lined streets with broad lawns and many open areas. Small, older houses sit on one side of the road, facing expensive new developments.

Sheila Cheatham's day-care center, which was called Mother Nurture, was on her property on Lewinsville Road.

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