A murder/suicide last weekend in a small Alabama town has shocked both residents and law enforcement, including the local sheriff.
“A little before 8 a.m. on quiet Sunday morning at a house in Millry, a small rural community of about 550 people in Washington County, Gary Sullivan knelt on one knee in his dining room and pointed a .308 rifle at a tall window that faced out to a white painted wraparound porch,” The Birmingham News reports.
“He pulled the trigger.”
“The bullet travelled just a few feet before passing through the screen window and then a wooden slat that formed part of a rocking chair on the porch. Sullivan’s wife Mel Ann, who was sitting on the porch taking a call at the time, died immediately, according to Washington County Sheriff Richard Stringer.”
“She never knew what happened,” Stringer said. “I don’t know what caused him to snap. I can’t say what happened.”
According to law enforcement, Stringer’s two sons Britton and Brae — 23 and 21, respectively — heard the gunshot that killed their mother and rushed to the scene.
They said they heard a second shot, which was their father trying to take his own life with a shotgun in an upstairs bedroom. He failed, badly injuring his face in the process.
The two engaged in a bloody struggle with the father for possession of the shotgun as he tried to reload. During the struggle, another shot hit the door.
They eventually got the weapon from their father, as well as discovering another shotgun and the rifle that killed Mel Ann Stringer.
“They secured the weapons in one of their parent’s cars,” The Birmingham News notes. “By that time their father had made his way to the kitchen, evident, said Sheriff Stringer, by a trail of blood that showed Sullivan’s movements around the house. Sullivan took a knife and walked out to the yard where he fatally wounded himself.”
“That’s where we found his body,” Stringer said.
Gary Sullivan, 54, was a former high school teacher and football coach at Millry High School who had lived most of his life in the area. His wife, 52, hailed from Alaska and was the county’s director of economic development.
There are few answers in police’s investigation so far. Sullivan had apparently borrowed a fertilizer tractor from his uncle the day before and had gone to bed with his wife happily the previous night, from all accounts.
“He seemed fine,” Stringer said. “Maybe something happened in the morning.”
Curtis Kirkland Snr., whose son is the principal of Millry High School, offered one possible explanation.
“I know he was forced into retirement earlier than he wanted and maybe that had an effect on his mental health, but we’ll never know what he was thinking,” Kirkland said.
Still, he was as baffled as everyone else.
“They were two of the nicest people you could hope to meet,” Kirkland said. “I watched Gary grow up. This wasn’t in his nature.”
Whatever the reasoning behind it, Springer remains haunted by the crime.
“I’ve seen a lot of things, deaths, suicides, but I’ve never seen one where the family had so much to lose,” the sheriff said.
“Good kids in college, wife with a good job, he was retired. I don’t know, there was so much to lose. This had a different effect on me than most.”
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