A shooting rampage in suburban Houston that left six members of a single household dead, including four children, could have been even worse but for the quick thinking of the lone survivor in the home, a 15-year-old girl, who managed to warn police of the gunman’s next planned shooting despite being critically wounded herself.
When police arrived at the home in Spring, a bedroom community north of Houston, yesterday, they found five people inside already deceased from gunshot wounds. A sixth was declared dead after being flown by helicopter to a Houston hospital.
The names of the victims had not been released but police said they were two boys, ages four and 13, two girls, ages six and nine, and a man and a woman both in their 30s, thought to be the parents. Still alive was the teenage girl who said the shooter was en route to another home nearby to kill other members of what appeared to be one extended family.
Agents rushed to the second home apparently arriving as the gunman, identified yesterday as Ron Lee Haskell, 33, was just drawing up in his car. A slow-speed chase ensued, eventually ending when the driver found himself trapped in a nearby cul-de-sac. There was then a lengthy stand-off involving SWAT negotiators and eventually, late into the night, Mr Haskell stepped out of the car, sank to his knees and surrendered.
“As soon as they got over there, he came driving up, and that’s when the chase started,” Assistant Chief Deputy Constable Mark Herman said, crediting the victim's information with saving the lives of those who were living in the second house, identified as a couple also in their thirties.
Video: Interview with witnesses on the scene
Mr Haskell was charged in court with capital murder in the case and held without bond. He has not been speaking to police officers. Contrary to earlier reports, it did not appear he was father to any of the children he is alleged to have shot and there was no information on a motive for the killings although the surviving teenager reportedly indicated that it was connected to some kind of domestic dispute involving “someone who had left the family”.
“Mr Haskell was married to a relative of the victims,” noted Constable Herman. “Mr Haskell and his spouse were divorced. I'm not sure what conclusion we can draw from the motive to attack family members.” In Texas, a conviction on a capital murder charge can lead to the imposition of the death penalty.
Speaking to the Houston Chronicle, neighbours of the victims said they that they had all belonged to a devout Mormon family. “They were very sweet and their kids were very shy. This is a sad, sad day,” a woman from one house across the road said. John Barros, an estate agent, said he had worked with one of the adults who had lived in the house. “It’s a great family … very religious,” he said. “They pray every day.”
“We don’t know why this happened,” another nearby resident, Paul Anthony Slawinski, said. “This man, his wife, and children were the definition of compassion and charity.”
“It appears this stems from a domestic issue with a breakup in the family from what our witness has told us,” Mr Herman told reporters. At a press conference Constable Ronald Hickman also said that by providing arriving officers with “critical information” the teenage survivor had surely prevented a wider bloodbath. She spoke with officers moments before being flown herself in a medical helicopter to a hospital for urgent emergency care.
Moreover, the officers had apparently arrived at the second home with only seconds to spare. “While quickly responding to that location, we saw him coming up to that residence where other relatives of that family lived and we assumed he meant to shoot them as well,” Constable Hickman said.
The cul-de-sac stand-off between the shooter and the police settled in after his car was successfully trapped between two armoured police vehicles. While the shooter was described as being “cool as a cucumber” through the three-hours of back and forth with negotiators outside, he also apparently spent some of that time with his pistol pointed to his own head. Police meanwhile had evacuated residents of nearby homes fearful of renewed violence.
However, Mr Haskell’s surrender avoided all further bloodshed and he was instantly taken into custody. “This concluded the way we wanted it to,” said County Sheriff’s deputy, Thomas Gilliland.