By BILL McKELWAY
The Appomattox County sheriff said this morning said that a man suspected of killing eight people at his home was unarmed and wearing a bulletproof vest when he surrendered to two SWAT team members at 7:10 a.m.
Christopher B. Speight, 39, “managed to conceal himself overnight in the wooded area” guarded by officers and turned himself in without incident, said Sheriff O. Wilson Staples and Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.
Staples and Geller said with the capture made, crime scene technicians, bomb squad members and SWAT officers combed the log cabin-style home on Snapps Mill Road/state Route 703 and a large area surrounding the dwelling.
Geller said that based on the initial investigation by authorities, police have “reason to believe” there could be explosives in the house or outside.
Speight was an owner of the residence and a large amount of surrounding land, Geller said.
A mass casualty unit from the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke has been assigned to the case, Wilson said.
“This is probably the worst tragedy in Virginia since the Virginia Tech massacre,“ said Geller.
Police repeated that Speight was acquainted with the victims but declined to specify their relationships, citing the ongoing investigation.
Geller also said that positive identifications of the victims had not been made. Police have said the victims were males and females.
“Speight’s motives are still under investigation,“ Staples said. “Charges are pending.“
Geller said Speight was either en route or already at the Appomattox Regional Jail.
(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for further details as they develop. The earlier story is posted below.)
APPOMATTOX — A man suspected of killing eight people and trying to shoot down a State Police helicopter as he was being hunted in a wooded area of Appomattox County surrendered without incident to two law enforcement officers at 7:10 a.m. today near the residence where bodies were found yesterday.
The announcement was made by Appomattox County Sheriff O. Wilson Staples, who smiled broadly as he stepped up to a microphone at a quickly arranged news conference at 7:25 outside a State Police command post.
State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Christopher B. Speight, 39, was taken into custody without incident. Geller said he was being “de-briefed” and transported to an undisclosed location.
“He was near the crime scene and physically approached law enforcement at the scene,” Geller said.
It was not immediately clear if the high-powered rifle believed to have been used in the shootings and in firing on a State Police helicopter was recovered.
Authorities said that even with the capture, schools would remain closed for the day as previously announced by the sheriff, “out of an abundance of caution.“ About 2,000 students are enrolled in the public schools. Also closed was Cornerstone Christian Academy, which is nearby the crime scene.
Geller said Speight was a resident of Appomattox County but would not say if his home was where the bodies were located south of the town of Appomattox.
Police last night established a search perimeter that ran two miles east-west and about 1,000 yards north-south between Snapps Mill Road and state Route 613/Police Tower Road and said they were confident that Speight was in the area, which is where the shots on the helicopter originated. At at 5 a.m. news conference today, police repeated that they believed Speight was within the perimeter.
After the capture, the focus turned to the crime scene, a log cabin-style home with children’s toys in the yard. About 100 law officers, many in camouflage and body armor, were searching the home and yard.
One victim was found in the the road, four bodies were outside the residence and three were inside, Geller said. She said Speight was acquainted with the victims but declined to specify the relationship.
Sam Carter, a member of the county Board of Supervisors, said yesterday the dead included Speight’s wife and son as well as another teenage boy. Full identities of those victims have not been released. State Police said the victims included males and females.
State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said last night the victim found injured on Snapps Mill died at Lynchburg General Hospital.