Democracy Dies in Darkness

‘She wanted him to suffer’: Sheriff explains why Texas mom killed two daughters in front of husband

Fort Bend, Tex., Sheriff Troy Nehls says Christy Sheats shot her two daughters last Friday with the intent of making their father - her husband - suffer. (Reuters)
June 30, 2016 at 8:52 a.m. UTC

Nearly a week ago, on June 24 , his 45th birthday, Jason Sheats gathered with his family in the living room of their Houston-suburb home about 5 p.m. Beside him were his daughters, Taylor, 22, and Madison, 17. His wife, Christy, had called a family meeting.

After years of challenges with Christy’s mental health, her struggles with depression and anxiety, her suicide attempts, Jason told authorities that he thought perhaps she was going to announce she had decided to file for divorce. The couple had talked about separating.

But instead, police said, the 42-year-old mother pulled out a .38 caliber handgun, a gift from her late grandfather, and pointed it at her screaming children. Then she shot them, inside the house and out in the street, where the girls collapsed and stopped moving. When law enforcement arrived, they watched Christy fire a final bullet into her eldest daughter, then a police officer shot the mother dead.

Jason Sheats walked away physically unscathed.

But he was so emotionally distraught, so numb from what he’d witnessed, that authorities hospitalized him anyway.

In interviews with police, Jason said he believes that was all part of Christy’s plan.

“She wanted him to suffer,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said in a news conference Wednesday. “Christy had ample time to shoot and kill Mr. Sheats in the home but she chose not to. Mr. Sheats stated that Christy knew how much he loved Taylor and Madison, and how much they loved him.”

“Mr. Sheats will have to live the rest of his life with this horrible memory,” Nehls said.

The Sheats family shooting case has gained attention for almost a week as more details of the tragedy unfold with each passing day. On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office, citing legal obligation, released three disturbing 911 calls from the night of the shooting; one from Taylor, one from Madison and one from a neighbor who watched in horror as Christy retreated back inside the home, her daughters already bleeding in the street, then emerged again with more bullets.

The girls, screaming and crying, can be heard begging their mom to stop. In the background, a man’s voice pleads: “I promise you, whatever you want.”

Early reports indicated that Christy, described by friends and family online as a loving and proud mother, may have been struggling with mental illness.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Nehls confirmed that theory.

Sheriff’s deputies had been called out to the house more than a dozen times since 2012, the same year Christy’s elderly grandfather died in Alabama, where he raised her like a daughter. Two months later, her mother died. That’s when her “downward spiral” began, Nehls said, recounting interviews with Jason Sheats.

The calls for service varied in substance: Three were after suicide attempts by Christy; two were medical calls; one was a call from the Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team; another was a verbal altercation. Once, Christy called 911 because she wanted to speak to a deputy.

Five of the calls were “false alarms,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Jason Sheats told investigators that his wife struggled with depression and anxiety and after each suicide attempt had been treated and evaluated at different private mental health facilities. After she stayed several days, Jason told authorities, he would pick Christy up and take her home. At the time of the shooting, Jason said, his wife was taking “numerous” prescription medications. She was also seeing a therapist.

Despite information on her LinkedIn profile listing her as the business manager of a Houston tattoo removal clinic, Jason told police his wife did not have a job, according to NBC News. They’d been married for more than 20 years, Jason told authorities, but Christy had been drinking heavily and they’d separated several times.

The gun she used to kill her children was inherited from her grandfather, authorities said. Christy had applied for a concealed carry permit, Jason told investigators, but the state of Texas rejected her application. Nehls said at the news conference that his office is investigating why the license was not approved. It was unclear whether it had to do with Christy’s mental health history.

From the outside, the Sheats family appeared to be tight-knit and loving. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, friends told local news outlets that Christy and Jason both loved their daughters. The girls were described as happy and kind. In one Facebook post, Christy called Madison and Taylor “very best friends.”

Their social media lives reflected the same. Posts on Christy’s wall include drawings from Taylor, an avid and talented artist who attended Lone Star College. She shared photographs of herself and Madison at country music concerts, alongside musings about her faith and support of the Second Amendment. She often tagged her husband in comments and joked with friends.

But behind the scenes, Christy, along with her family, was crumbling.

Other posts on her social media accounts hint at that. She wrote often about how painful it was to lose her grandfather, a man she called “Pa-paw” and who she credited with teaching her the ways of the world. She called him her best friend, mentor and hero.

Father's Day is almost unbearable for me without this amazing man. He was the best part of my life and an essential part...

Posted by Christy Byrd Sheats on Sunday, June 21, 2015

On anniversaries of his death, Christy would pen lengthy, heartfelt tributes to the man and discuss the emptiness she still felt without him.

“Death has a way of reducing us to desperate beggars,” she wrote on June 7, 2015, the three-year anniversary of his death. “They say time heals and the heart recovers but I reject this notion as my heart still grieves and suffers his loss every single day.”

She continued: “But 3 years…36 months…1,095 days without seeing his million dollar smile, without his ray of sunshine has felt like my heart has been stranded in the middle of the artic without shelter.”

In 2012, she wrote that she felt she’d never get over losing him, “but hopefully one day, my heart will begin to heal.”

I love this picture of Madison and my Pa-paw.

Posted by Christy Byrd Sheats on Monday, September 10, 2012

Her family and friends, including Jason and Taylor, responded with comforting comments. On a post on the two-month anniversary, Christy’s eldest daughter wrote: “He’d want you to not spend your life on sadness, as he brought so much happiness unto us all. Love you and hope you feel better. With time, it may get easier. He’s with you now, and forever.”

On Christy’s birthday last year, Taylor surprised her mom with a sea of white balloons marked with happy wishes.

“YOU ARE SO LOVED,” one said.

At the news conference Wednesday, Nehls said it was an argument with Taylor on Friday that precipitated the killings.

Christy and Taylor argued, he said, and the mother wanted to prevent her from seeing her fiance, whom she was scheduled to marry Monday, according to reports. Jason disagreed, arguing it was “inappropriate” to ground their 22-year-old daughter just because of a spat.

By the end of the night, everyone but Jason was dead.

At the news conference, Nehls said that the father didn’t want to speak publicly about the shootings but had given police permission to share the details about what motivated Christy.

“He did state she accomplished what she set out to do,” Nehls said. “And that is to make him suffer.”

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