Man's life offers little to hint at explosion of violence
Monday, January 25, 2010
APPOMATTOX, VA. -- Christopher B. Speight lived in two starkly different worlds.
Court papers indicate that he was quietly preparing for a violent siege. He stockpiled firearms, hand grenades, pipe bombs, ammunition, body armor and paramilitary gear such as night-vision goggles and Vietnam-era Claymore mine components. He spent hours firing semiautomatic rifles on a 200-yard range behind his place on Snapps Mill Road. He cached food, provisions and sleeping bags. He booby-trapped the house and the woods around it with explosives.
Outwardly, however, Speight showed few signs that anything was terribly wrong. He never married and kept mostly to himself, but he was usually cheerful and calm around other people. He was quick to lend a hand and proved to be a reliable security guard at businesses for Old Dominion Security. With co-workers who drew him out, he spoke of his faith and attendance at a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall in Rustburg, his reluctance to settle down with any woman and a passion for firearms that began when he was a boy.
His mother's death in 2006 from brain cancer had plunged him into despair for a time, but it also made him closer to his sister and her husband, who returned from Georgia last year to live with him. To many who knew him, he seemed like an ordinary person whose troubles appeared no worse than anyone else's.
The enormous divide between the man people thought they knew and the one who saw dark plots on all sides was never obvious until Tuesday. Sometime before noon, authorities say, Speight exploded in violence, killing eight people with a high-powered rifle, firing shots when a sheriff's deputy and EMT arrived at the home after a body was reported there, and shooting a Virginia State Police helicopter from the sky. The 19-hour rampage came to a close after a damp, all-night standoff in the woods near his home when Speight, unarmed and wearing a bulletproof vest, peacefully surrendered to police.
The dead included the people in his life who were closest to him: his sister, Lauralee Dobyns Sipe, 37; her husband, Dwayne S. Sipe, 38, who went by his middle name, Shannon, with close friends and family members; and his sister's 15-year-old daughter, Morgan Leigh Dobyns, and 4-year-old son, Joshua T. Sipe. Authorities say Speight also killed four acquaintances: Ronald "Bo" Scruggs II, 16, and Emily A. Quarles, 15, both friends of Morgan's; and Jonathan L. and Karen Quarles, both 43, Emily's parents.
Four victims were found inside Speight's house, and three others as if shot while sitting in a car or immediately outside it. Law enforcement sources said Jonathan Quarles had been able to reach the road, despite being shot in the torso, and lay face down, fighting for life, when passersby found him.
Speight, who has been charged with murder, is in custody without bail at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority in Lynchburg. On Friday, investigators filed court documents cataloguing firearms, explosives and other items seized from Speight's home, including a Colt AR-15 assault rifle, a BFI Bushmaster assault rifle, two Chinese-made Norinco semiautomatic rifles and other military arms.
People are trying to make sense of a killing rampage that defies understanding. The people Speight is charged with murdering were trying to help him, yet he thought they would bring him harm. He'd gone his whole life proud of avoiding violence to resolve disputes.
Speight's uncle, Thomas Giglio, 61, of South Boston, Va., said no one in the family ever hinted that tensions were brewing inside the neatly kept, two-story brown house behind the split rail fence. Giglio said Lauralee was looking out for her elder brother's best interests, and Sipe, a Navy veteran and successful entrepreneur, treated him like his brother. Giglio said Speight, who suffered from a serious learning disability and bouts of severe depression tied to his mother's death, seemed to be getting on with his life just fine.
"I looked at Chris and Dwayne and I thought, 'This is really great. He's got a soul mate,' " Giglio said. "Those were the people who loved Christopher, who helped Christopher, who protected Christopher, who looked after him. I don't know how it got twisted."
In dozens of interviews with co-workers, friends, associates and members of law enforcement, a darker portrait has emerged of Speight as a deeply troubled man whose demons were kept so firmly in check that people who had known him for years now feel as if they might not have known him at all.