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Man is charged with murder in 8 Appomattox shootings

Murder suspect Christopher Speight, second from right, is led out of State Police headquarters in Appomattox, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. Speight is accused of killing eight people and leading police on an overnight manhunt.
Murder suspect Christopher Speight, second from right, is led out of State Police headquarters in Appomattox, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. Speight is accused of killing eight people and leading police on an overnight manhunt. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Steve Helber -- AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 21, 2010

APPOMATTOX, VA. -- Christopher Bryan Speight described himself in court papers as a dependable, hardworking person who was not quick to anger, and he showed pride in his ability to "find ways to get out of problems without using force or violence."

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Friends, in letters in support of his successful 1995 application for a concealed weapons permit, called him "an upstanding, Christian young man" and "very mature and responsible."

But something happened in recent years that changed Speight, friends say.

It started when his mother died in 2006. "He said he had a 'zinging' in his ears. I can't explain it the way he explained it," said David Anderson, 54, who worked with Speight and became friendly with him. Anderson said Speight told him that he began seeing a therapist but that it didn't help much. He had grown worse recently, a change that Anderson and other co-workers attributed to tensions in his house on Snapps Mill Road. "He had gotten quieter in the past six months," Anderson said.

Something must have been building, Anderson said. On Tuesday, Speight, 39, allegedly shot his sister, his brother-in-law and their two children, along with four family friends, in a rampage that left eight dead. It was the worst mass slaying in Virginia since a single shooter killed 33 people at Virginia Tech in 2007.

State police released the victims' names late Wednesday, and family friends described their relationships to Speight and his family. Killed were Lauralee Sipe, 38, Speight's sister; Dwayne Sipe, 38, his brother-in-law; Morgan Dobyns, 15, Speight's niece; Joshua Sipe, 4, his nephew; Emily A. Quarles, 15, Morgan's friend; Karen Quarles, 43, Emily's mother; Jonathan L. Quarles, 43, Emily's father; and Ronald "Bo" Scruggs II, 16, Morgan's friend. Four victims were found inside Speight's house, three immediately outside it and one in the middle of a nearby road.

Speight never married, and his sister appeared to be his only family.

Although a motive for the shootings remained elusive, friends said Speight had talked of a dispute with his family about ownership of the house and land, which sits off a dirt road in wooded farmland about 200 miles from Washington. Speight's mother had left the 34-acre property jointly to Speight and his sister, court records show.

Speight thought that his sister and brother-in-law were seeking to force him out of the house and dispossess him of it, Anderson said. Speight said that the couple, who had just moved into the three-bedroom house about a year ago, promised to help him build a home on the property and that they cleared timber for the site -- a job for which Speight thought he had done the lion's share of work. But the house was not built, and Speight confided that he felt as if he had chopped wood mostly to fill the stove, Anderson said.

On Wednesday, Speight, donning a bulletproof vest and camouflage pants, emerged from the Appomattox woods where he had fled after the shootings and turned himself in to a police SWAT team, ending a 20-hour hunt during which he used a high-powered rifle to hold police at bay, authorities said. Police said his well-aimed shots forced a state police helicopter to make an emergency landing after its fuel tank was pierced, and more than 150 law enforcement officials had been combing the woods for him overnight.

After Speight's arrest, police carefully examined his home with bomb-sniffing dogs. Technicians recovered seven explosive devices later Wednesday, the state police said.

Appomattox Commonwealth's Attorney Darrel W. Puckett said Wednesday night that Speight was charged with one count of first-degree murder.

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