Divorce Scarred Md. Family of 5 In Murder-Suicide

Journalists visit Unity Neighborhood Park in Montgomery County, where a man fatally shot his ex-wife, three children and himself Thursday.
Journalists visit Unity Neighborhood Park in Montgomery County, where a man fatally shot his ex-wife, three children and himself Thursday. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Ernesto Londoño, Steve Hendrix and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 24, 2007

In the hours before they were killed, the three Brockdorff children made the most of the unseasonably warm Thanksgiving morning, playing kick the can and football with neighbors on the quiet street in Howard County where their mother had moved recently in search of a fresh start.

"They were all playing and being kids and being happy and enjoying Thanksgiving," said Julia Schettig, a neighbor who spent part of the day with the children and their mother, Gail L. Pumphrey.

Later that afternoon, Pumphrey, 43, drove the children -- David, 12, Meagan, 10, and Brandon, 6 -- to Unity Neighborhood Park in Montgomery County to take them to her ex-husband, a handoff that was required under the terms of their divorce. On Thanksgiving, David P. Brockdorff, 40, got the kids in years that ended in odd numbers.

Police said Brockdorff showed up in a stolen Nissan Altima, armed with a .22-caliber rifle.

Pumphrey and the children arrived at the park in Damascus about 4:30 p.m., police said. The 1 1/2 -acre park, which has a small playground and two wooden picnic tables, is in an area so remote that neighbors didn't report hearing gunfire.

About 9:30 p.m., Maryland-National Capital Park Police officers noticed two cars with engines running in the otherwise deserted parking lot. In Pumphrey's green Ford Taurus, they found the bodies of Pumphrey and Meagan. David and Brandon were in the Nissan.

"There were multiple shots," Montgomery Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman said yesterday at a news conference.

Investigators initially suspected that the gunman was at large, and they searched the park and nearby area Thursday night. Shortly after the bodies of Pumphrey and the children were discovered, officers found Brockdorff.

Investigators said yesterday that Brockdorff shot and killed Pumphrey and the children, then walked about 100 feet into the brush, turned the rifle on himself, fired once and collapsed on the weapon. He left no note, police said.

Brockdorff bought the rifle in Pennsylvania in 1993, police said, but they provided few other details about one of the deadliest shootings in county history.

The five lives that ended at the park had been scarred by a bitter divorce, accusations of abuse, financial troubles aggravated by the soft real estate market and a feud that did not abate when the couple parted, according to court records, lawyers and neighbors who knew the family.

"With these two people, nothing cooled down," said Samuel Williamowsky, a lawyer who represented Brockdorff in the divorce. "They just went on and on. Everything was a constant fight."

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