Middletown, Md., Grapples With Deaths of Family of 5

By Matt Zapotosky and Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 20, 2009

On a day when members of Holy Family Catholic Community parish ordinarily would have seen Francie Billotti-Wood volunteering in the church nursery, people in Middletown were left with agonizing questions about what could have gone so wrong in a family with such outward promise.

The Rev. Kevin Farmer opened the 9 a.m. service yesterday by telling more than 400 somber parishioners that he had "no words" to describe the "unspeakable act" that Billotti-Wood, 33, and her three young children had suffered at the hands of their husband and father.

Frederick County authorities say Christopher A. Wood, 34, killed his wife and children, cutting and shooting them, before he took his own life.

Some church members hugged and cried. Others looked stoic, disbelief written on their faces. A few blocks away, neighbors added to the memorial of stuffed animals, flowers and notes on the front porch of the house where the unthinkable became reality Saturday morning when the bodies were found by Billotti-Wood's father.

Billotti-Wood and the children -- Chandler, 5, Gavin, 4, and Fiona, 2, who were in their pajamas -- had each been shot once, and they had been shot in the beds where they were found, officials said. Wood's body was on the floor of the couple's bedroom. Authorities said the victims also suffered "severe lacerations and cut wounds," but they would not detail those injuries. A handgun and shotgun were found in the home.

Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said yesterday that investigators were awaiting autopsy results and sorting through 50 interviews with friends, relatives and neighbors of the family. Authorities have not established a motive or a timeline for the killings.

Authorities said Chris Wood left five suicide notes in the house, one of which suggested that he had psychological problems and was taking medication. In at least one note, Wood apologized for what he did, authorities said. Investigators were exploring whether financial problems or a possibly stressful move last year from Florida to Maryland might have contributed to what happened, Bailey said.

"There's still a lot to do yet," Bailey said.

At Holy Family, Billotti-Wood was known as an avid volunteer. She had signed up to teach children's liturgy on Sundays and religious education for second-graders during the week. She also was on the parent advisory committee.

Deacon George Sisson's homily was largely devoted to the family. "We read about them in other places," he said of such events. "Now it's not other places. It's a couple blocks from this church."

Sheriff's deputies had never before been called to the family's two-story house on Washington Street, and there was no known history of domestic violence, authorities said.

As details of the couple's history emerged yesterday, a picture formed of a young family brimming with potential. Billotti-Wood's friends described her as having a "servant's heart," a talented, compassionate organizer with a résumé full of social service work and volunteerism. Wood, who worked in railroad marketing and sales, seemed on a solid career path when the two married in Florida in 2003.

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