A Spotsylvania man killed a person at a hotel in Virginia, abducted a woman with whom he had a relationship, then fatally shot himself as officers surrounded him on Interstate 95 on Tuesday morning, according to police.
Todd Houck, 36, the man who is thought to have committed the shooting and the abduction before killing himself, was the son of former state senator R. Edward Houck, who represented Spotsylvania in the legislature from 1984 to 2012.
Authorities, who described the events at a news conference, said the incident began just after 8 a.m. when Jeremy Gift, 36, of Stafford was fatally shot at Relax Inn in Bowling Green, more than 70 miles south of Washington.
A bystander called 911 just before the shooting occurred. The dispatcher heard arguing in the background, then a gunshot, authorities said. Caroline County sheriff’s deputies rushed to the scene, and one arrived as a Mercury Mountaineer was pulling out of the parking lot.
The deputy saw a man, who appeared to be holding a gun and driving the SUV, and a woman in the passenger seat.
Sheriff’s deputies pursued the SUV through Bowling Green. When the driver got on I-95 heading north, state police joined the pursuit.
The chase concluded after more than 20 miles, near mile marker 124 on I-95 in Spotsylvania County. There, state troopers boxed in the SUV. The driver rammed one of the troopers’ vehicles and came to a stop. Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the driver then shot himself. She said police never fired at the SUV.
Geller said the driver, identified as Todd Houck, died at the scene. The woman, who is 34, was not injured.
Police said that Gift, Houck and the woman had a domestic relationship but did not explain what the relationship was.
Gift’s uncle, Jamie Gift said Jeremy was “more like a brother” to him. Jamie Gift said his nephew enjoyed fly fishing and had a love of children, though he never had any of his own.
Jamie Gift spoke to his nephew about every other month. An Air Force veteran, Jeremy Gift spent time in jail and suffered emotional setbacks. But he enjoyed working with his hands and had found construction work.
“He was getting his life cleaned up and straightened out. He was doing really good.”
Spotsylvania defense attorney Mark Gardner said he had known Houck since Houck was a teenager and had represented him recently when Houck stole money from a Fredericksburg IHOP.
Gardner said that Houck was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. He disliked the side effects of medications he was prescribed, and turned instead to marijuana and other drugs.
“He has been treated pretty consistently throughout the years but never really found a treatment regimen that stuck,” Gardner said. “He has supportive parents. God knows they’ve done everything they could to try to get him resources over the years.”
Houck had a history of troubled behavior. In 1999, at age 19, he barricaded himself in his apartment when police tried to arrest him for breaking into a former girlfriend’s home. The standoff lasted almost 12 hours and ended when a SWAT team entered the apartment, according to news reports at the time.
“We thank God that no one was hurt or injured during the course of this incident,” Edward Houck said to the Free-Lance Star after the 1999 incident. “In view of our son’s long history of mental illness, it is our hope and wish that appropriate treatment can now begin in earnest.”
On Tuesday, members of the state Senate expressed shock and sorrow for their former colleague’s loss, which comes on the heels of another tragedy for the Houck family. In October 2012, Houck and his wife lost their other child, a daughter who died at age 31 of multiple sclerosis.
“I just can’t believe so much pain and suffering for one couple,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
Senators were especially shaken by the news because not two years ago, the son of another senator committed suicide. In November 2013, Gus Deeds, who had mental health issues, critically injured his father, Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), before killing himself.
Gardner said that Todd Houck most recently served 14 months in jail for the IHOP larceny, from May 2014 to August of this year.
After his release, Fredericksburg prosecutors charged him with an additional crime related to the same incident. He was released on $1,500 bond in that case, despite prosecutors’ objections because of his criminal history.
Gardner said that he was not concerned that Houck posed a safety risk when he argued successfully for his release on bond.
“He’s never been violent before, so this conduct is completely out of character from what I know about him,” Gardner said.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.