Thursday, December 31, 2009

Quadruple murder-suicide has lasting effect on community (Greenhill, Alabama)

Last April, dad KEVIN GARNER murdered his wife, his teenage daughter, his sister, and the sister's son. His wife was in the process of obtaining a divorce--a very dangerous time for those trying to escape especially violent abusers.

Story of the Year: Quadruple murder-suicide has lasting effect on community

By Tom Smith
Senior Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 11:41 p.m.

GREENHILL - Lauderdale County Sheriff Ronnie Willis said he almost daily hears someone bring up the tragedy that shook the Greenhill community April 7.

He said the day likely will never be forgotten.

It's the day four people were slain inside a home on Lauderdale 73. The shooter, former Lauderdale County resident Kevin Garner, was found later in the day outside his home in Priceville. Authorities said he burned the house and then killed himself.

The story was voted by TimesDaily staff members as the Story of the Year in 2009.

"It's still talked about, not just in the Greenhill community but throughout the county and even in other counties," Willis said.

He said some people continue struggling to put the event behind them.

"There's still faded bows hanging on the road signs that no one wants to take down because they want to hang on to the memories," Willis said. "This is something that's not supposed to happen here."

Investigators said Tammy Garner, 40, and her daughter, Chelsie Garner, 16, a junior at Rogers High School, were among those killed at their house. Also killed were Garner's sister-in-law, Karen Beaty, 48, and her son, Bobby, 11.

Authorities said Kevin Lee Garner, Tammy Garner's estranged husband, drove to Greenhill during the early morning of April 7. He used a door key that was hidden at the house to enter and then shot the four victims before returning to Morgan County and killing himself.

Investigators said Tammy and Kevin Garner were in the process of divorcing. She and her daughter moved to Greenhill about a year earlier to be closer to relatives.

Beaty and her son, who lived in Lebanon, Ill., traveled to the area to testify in the couple's divorce proceedings, which were scheduled for court the morning after the shooting.

"The family was so well-respected in the community and Chelsie was so well thought of and loved by her classmates," Willis said. "That's one reason the community is still mourning over this."

The sheriff said the Greenhill community traditionally pulls together in a time of tragedy. He said residents did the same in April.

"They support each other because it is such a tightly knit community," he said. "People in the community, many of whom didn't know the victims or their families, grieved just like the families grieved."

Willis said the tragic loss of life as well as Kevin Garner's act of violence shocked area residents.

"You don't want to think a father would walk in and kill his daughter, wife, sister and nephew and then drive to another county, burn his house and kill himself," Willis said. "But it happened and it continues to affect people who weren't even connected to the deaths.

"This was something we never dreamed we would have to deal with, and we hope and pray it never happens again. It was a day none of us will likely forget; I know I won't."