- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BELLVILLE, Texas | Authorities working to determine what spurred a flurry of gunshots that left five people dead in southeast Texas are questioning a 20-year-old man who lived with the victims in the isolated house surrounded by pasture land.

Police said Monday the victims of the weekend bloodshed all lived in the single-story brick home in Bellville, a town of about 4,000 people located 55 miles northwest of Houston. They included a retiree and his wife, a younger woman and man, and a girl thought to be about 3 years old, police said.

Investigators were questioning a 20-year-old man, who remained jailed on burglary and attempted burglary charges after, authorities say, trying to break into a Bellville home.

The man — arrested about 3 a.m. Sunday after a homeowner pulled a gun on him — could face capital murder charges. Prosecutors are reviewing the case and could bring those charges. No one else is being sought and it does not appear any other people were involved in the shootings, Sheriff DeWayne Burger said.

Sgt. Paul Faircloth of the Austin County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were still trying to determine a motive for the slayings. He said the sheriff’s office received a call Sunday afternoon from a person who had gone to the home and discovered the crime scene. Deputies arrived and found four bodies inside the home.

Those found inside the house were identified as George T. Washington, 69; his wife, Debra Washington, 54; Kiana Shree Thearse, 25; and Khalilah Masse-Chambers, about 3. A man found in the thick expanse of woods behind the house was identified as Cedric Thomas, 19.

Officials said they haven’t determined the victims’ relationship, but a relative of Debra Washington said both Ms. Thearse and the 20-year-old man in custody were Mrs. Washington’s children.

Joanna Gutierrez, Mrs. Washington’s cousin, drove from her home in Austin early Monday and arrived outside the home. She had to pause several times to gather herself as she talked about the family.

“It’s just so devastating,” she said. “It’s so unbelievable.”

Ms. Gutierrez described the Washingtons as a friendly couple who had lived in the house about two years, since moving from Houston.

“She doesn’t know a stranger,” Ms. Gutierrez said. “She’s kind to everybody. He was the same way.”

The aging home sits on a large lot off a two-lane farm-to-market road across the street from a large plot of pasture land. The closest neighbors are several hundred yards away, and the home backs up to more pasture land, with thick woods behind it.

Several sheriff’s department and Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles were parked in front of the home Monday, as a few head of cattle grazed behind the home.

Archie Seals, the Washingtons’ landlord and a 35-year resident of Bellville, said he’s shaken but not afraid.

“In the big cities, things happen, but even in small cities, things happen,” he said. “But I most definitely feel safe here. I’m not going anywhere.”

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