Instead, he was met by gunfire.
A bullet that seemed to come from the basement door sliced across his forehead. As blood poured down his face, Norwood said, he ran into the small ranch house to search for his family. The lights were on in the room belonging to his older son, Levi, but there was no sign of the 17-year-old. In the living room, there was what looked like a large pile of blankets on the floor.
When he pulled back the blanket, he found his wife, Jen, 34, facedown in a pool of blood.
Underneath another blanket on the love seat was the small body of Wyatt.
“No, this isn’t real,” Norwood recalled screaming.
He said he fired his own gun, which he carries with him, at the basement, then ran out of the house and flagged down a passing driver, who called 911.
It was another day before he learned where his older son was.
On Saturday, Levi was charged with two counts of murder by the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department, setting off a manhunt for the 5-foot-9-inch, 125-pound teen. The Liberty High School junior had fled the family’s house on foot, authorities said, before stealing a car and driving 200 miles south. He was trying to shoplift hair dye — to disguise his purple-tinted locks, authorities said — at a store in Durham, N.C., when police there arrested him.
As he grieves for his wife and first-grader, Norwood also wrestles with anger toward his elder child, whom he now refers to only as “the one who took them away.”
Norwood said Levi had been “a little depressed” recently, enough that the family had scheduled a doctor’s appointment for him Monday — three days after the shooting. But Norwood said that he was raised in a “loving home” and that there had been no “red flags” surrounding his recent behavior.
With no clear motive named in the family tragedy, Norwood has also had to defend himself against accusations of racism that some suspect played a role.
Four classmates told The Post that Levi described his father as racist. A Facebook page belonging to Norwood is adorned with a notorious white supremacist motto known as the “14 words”: “We must secure the existence of our race, and a future for white children.”
A close relative said Norwood was upset that Levi was dating a black girl.
Norwood denies being a white supremacist. He posted the motto in 2014 but said it was “nothing that I believe or stand for.”
He said he and his wife had pressured Levi to stop seeing his girlfriend shortly before the shootings because the relationship was “bringing him down,” not because she was black.
The girl, who attends the same school as Levi, did not respond to requests for comment. Her parents declined to comment.
The allegations of racism have only added to his pain, Norwood said.
“You don’t know how to feel,” he said. “All you have are just questions of why and how. How your little boy grew up to do something like that.”
'A regular family'
They met in a pet store in Maine. Josh Norwood was a teenager behind the counter when Jen Overlock walked in.
“I was a snake guy,” he recalled. “She came in and asked about ferrets, and I said, ‘Wow, I liked that.’ ”
They started dating. And a year later, Norwood proposed to her at a Pantera concert. When they married in 2002, Jen was only 16. Her mother had to give consent, the relative said.
When the couple had their first child a year later, they named him after their favorite pet: a large snake called Leviathan.
“It was a strong name,” Norwood said. “Something unusual.”
To most people, the quiet boy with dark brown eyes was simply known as Levi.
When he was about 6 years old, the family moved to Virginia so that Norwood could manage a reptile shop. Wyatt was born a few years later — the spitting image of his older brother.
Jen loved being a mother, Norwood said. Her Facebook page — with “proud mom” in the url — was filled with American flags, photos of her sons and fundraisers for their schools.
“She was very protective of both our boys,” Norwood said. “Our boys grew up in a loving household. We told them we loved them every day.”
Norwood taught Levi to fish and hunt. He also took the teen to the gun range to practice his marksmanship.
“We were a regular family,” he said, adding that he and Levi had recently started teaching Wyatt to shoot as well.
Friends at Liberty High in Bealeton described Levi as quiet but funny and engaging with those he knew well. But they also said a shadow hung over him: his family’s alleged racism.
Terrell Smith said he had been close with Levi for years but had never met his parents — something Smith, 17, attributed to the fact that he is African American. Levi had told him that his family wasn’t welcoming toward anyone who wasn’t white.
Levi was friendly and accepting of all kinds of kids, said Jerry Hernandez, 16, another classmate. That’s why it surprised him when Levi would make comments about his family’s intolerance.
“He used to talk about how his father was a racist,” said Jerry, who met Levi in the seventh grade. He said Levi lamented being unable to bring certain friends around his father because they were black.
The close relative supported their claims.
Josh and Jen were “really prejudiced, as much as I hate to say this,” said the relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear she would upset the family.
“When Leviathan was just 3 years old, [Josh] used to say the n-word all the time,” the relative recalled.
His Facebook cover page quotes David Lane’s “14 words,” which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “the best-known slogan of the U.S. white supremacist movement.” Lane, founder of a group called the Order, died in prison after a conviction in the killing of a Jewish radio host in 1984.
“I don’t even remember why I put it [up],” Norwood said of the post, which remained online as of Wednesday. “Maybe I was having a bad day.”
According to his friends, Levi’s relationship with his girlfriend made him happier than he had been in a long time. But they also wondered how the interracial relationship would play with his parents.
Both were against his dating a black girl, the relative said, but his father was “adamant” about the issue. “He didn’t want Leviathan having anything to do with her.”
Norwood insisted his opposition to the relationship had nothing to do with race.
“I don’t care about that,” he said. “The only thing I told him was, ‘Levi, this girl has a few issues, she’s working through some stuff, and you guys don’t need to bring each other down. You don’t need people, who need help and support, to feed off of each other and cause you to get worse.’ ”
Norwood said that Levi was not on antidepressants or other medication, but that his grades had begun to suffer. His parents had recently taken away Levi’s cellphone when the teenager “lied” to them, Norwood said, about studying after school when he was actually with his girlfriend.
The teenagers documented their deepening feelings for each other on Instagram, while also hinting at the hurdles they faced.
“I hate it when bad/sad things happen to my Bubby,” the girl wrote on Jan. 2 next to a drawing of a black girl comforting a white boy. “I would just love to take every ach and pain his heart and mind has to endure. Holding him tight as I say everything is gonna eventually be better then now.”
'Worst day of my life'
Norwood hasn’t been back to the brick house on Elk Run Road. The last sight of it was his wife’s flowers in the entryway, surrounded by his blood.
His relatives who went there over the weekend described his favorite meal of chopped chicken breast uncooked on the stove; a Valentine’s present for Wyatt — his beloved Mr. Potato Head from “Toy Story” — still unwrapped; and a bullet through his wife’s lizard tank.
This is what the shooting has left him: a house he can’t live in, a double funeral scheduled for Sunday and criminal proceedings against a son whose name he can no longer bear to say.
Levi is expected to be returned in the coming days to Virginia, where he faces arraignment on the two murder charges in juvenile court, according to Sgt. James Hartman, a spokesman for the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department. Scott Hook, Fauquier’s commonwealth’s attorney, will decide whether to leave the case in juvenile court or seek to try him as an adult.
Whatever the outcome, the shooting has left Norwood shattered emotionally and wounded physically, with a gash from the bullet above his eye.
“Every day for the rest of my life,” he said, “I’m going to wake up, look in the mirror, and I’m going to have a scar down my face, my head, as a memory of the worst day of my life, when my family got taken away.”
Norwood said he doesn’t know how his son would have gotten a gun. He always kept the family’s firearms in a double-locked safe to which the teenager didn’t have access, he said.
The previous Sunday, the two of them had taken a drive to Richmond so his son could clock the hours behind the wheel he needed to get his license.
“He was great,” Norwood said. “We were laughing.”
And on the morning of the shooting, his wife texted him that Levi and Wyatt were curled up together before the school bus came.
That evening, Norwood would find the boy’s body in the same spot, allegedly slain by the brother who’d cuddled with him hours earlier.
Norwood could not fathom who his son had become. “He’s not the same person,” he said.
The rest of the family is also struggling to understand what happened.
Ginny Norwood, Josh’s mother, wrote on Facebook that she had spoken to Wyatt that morning. The 6-year-old was excited because his mother was coming to school to have lunch with him. He asked his grandma whether she could come, too. Next time, she promised.
“We are all devastated,” she wrote. “Josh has lost his entire family. Levi’s life is ‘gone.’ ”
Despite the murder charges against her grandson, Ginny Norwood said she was praying for him.
“I love Levi still but am so confused,” she wrote. “We are all empty pray for us.”
Tom Jackman and Donna St. George contributed to this report.