Fairfax Gunman's Rampage Detailed

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Police yesterday described a harrowing scene at the Great Falls home where a triple slaying occurred Christmas morning, with the 27-year-old gunman rampaging through the spacious residence, shooting two victims at bedside and one cowering in a closet.

Shocked neighbors, friends and law enforcement officials struggled to make sense of the killings, which occurred less than an hour after the gunman, identified as Nathan Cheatham, allegedly killed his mother, Sheila Cheatham, at her McLean home eight miles away. The bloodbath ended when Cheatham shot himself in the head with the 9mm handgun, bringing the day's death toll to five, authorities said.

The lone survivor, a 20-year-old man who called police, had sought refuge in the basement of the Great Falls home.

Even as police swarmed around the home yesterday, looking for clues, they acknowledged a sense of mystery about the killings, which brought the number of homicides in Fairfax County this year to 22.

"Perhaps we will never be able to answer the question that is most prevalent, and that is, why?" Fairfax County Police Chief David M. Rohrer said at an afternoon news conference.

Police identified the victims in the Great Falls home as Adam Sebastian Price, 19, a friend of Cheatham's, and his mother, Janina C. Price, 50. They had moved from their longtime home in another part of Great Falls a few weeks ago and appeared to be renting the Sycamore Springs Lane house, which is owned by a retired U.S. diplomat, neighbors said. Also slain was Christopher James Buro, 20, a friend of the Price family whom Cheatham apparently did not know, police said.

Friends recalled Cheatham in his earlier years as a respectful youth who was gifted at drawing. But in recent years, he had run into trouble, with emotional problems, convictions on minor assault and concealed weapon charges, and arrests on drug charges, according to police, public records and friends.

"He seemed to be a loner," said a woman who lived near the Lewinsville Road home of Sheila Cheatham, near Tysons Corner. "I would see him sitting out on the porch by himself."

Police said that autopsies were being conducted and that they will ascertain whether Nathan Cheatham had drugs in his system.

Cheatham had moved back to his mother's home in the past few weeks after living for a while with two brothers elsewhere in Fairfax County, police said. Sheila Cheatham, 53, ran a day-care center, Mother Nurture, on her property. Acquaintances described her as enthusiastic about her business and delighted with a new beachfront condo in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., one of several properties she owned. They said she was divorced from Nathan's father, who was described by one of his co-workers as a former Navy SEAL.

One Lewinsville Road resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the area -- a mix of modest homes and large, new houses -- as "a wonderful neighborhood. I've been here 40 years, never had anything" happen.

Until Christmas morning.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company