Two dead: Murder-suicide in Laurelville — (THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH)

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THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Randy Ludlow, THE DISPATCH

LAURELVILLE, Ohio – ­ Down a grass and dirt lane, two lives in crisis ended Sunday morning atop Thompson Ridge. Only seconds before he died, Rollie Morgan ran into his house carrying the .22-caliber rifle his father, Richard, futilely tried to wrestle away hours earlier.

The 18-year-old told his father: “I just shot Tara. We need to take her to the hospital.”

Morgan reloaded the rifle and sprinted to the car where his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Tara Lowery-Stevens, 19, lay wounded, if not dead.

As his father watched, Morgan fired at least nine more shots into her head and upper body through the shattered passenger-side window. He then sat behind the steering wheel and looked toward the body. “I love you, Tara,” he said. Morgan placed the rifle between his feet, inserted the muzzle in his mouth, reached down and pulled the trigger.

“How do you shoot somebody and love them?” Richard Morgan asked yesterday. “You’re out of your mind.”

Hocking County Coroner David Cummin blamed the murder-suicide on the mental health system’s failure to adequately treat Rollie Morgan.

Morgan’s father and Tara’s grandmother, Betty Lowery, also blamed alcohol and drugs.

The 74-year-old Morgan tried to help his son as his depression and anxiety deepened and he talked of killing himself. Rollie Morgan went to hospitals twice the past two weeks, pleading for help.

He started counseling but walked out of last week’s session. The anti-depressant he had been given takes weeks to kick in. He had been unable to see a psychiatrist because of a shortage that keeps their schedules packed for months.

Rollie Morgan was self medicating, his father said. “These pills, marijuana and beer will just take you down the tubes. God, it’s just awful. I hope other kids learn from mine.

“He was such a good kid. Those things made him into something I didn’t recognize.”

Lowery tried to help her granddaughter. The 81-year-old insisted Lowery-Stevens enter rehab to kick her fondness for drugs. Maybe later, she always said.

“She just went the wrong way. She was a very unhappy little girl,” Lowery said yesterday from her neat, brown brick home near Laurelville Elementary School.

“She was into the drug scene. … I loved her, but I couldn’t deal with her,” Mrs. Lowery said of the girl she had raised since age 13.

Lowery-Stevens’ marriage of less than 18 months ended in a divorce filing. She spent nine days in jail last month after being charged with assaulting Morgan and on a probation violation.

Lowery-Stevens and Morgan started arguing at the Old Time Fireman’s Festival in Laurelville on Friday night. Morgan ended up in jail for six hours for underage consumption and disorderly conduct.

The couple hooked up sometime Saturday night or early Sunday. Morgan arrived at his father’s house with Lowery-Stevens in his car about 3 a.m. Sunday.

He ran inside to grab the rifle and argued with Lowery-Stevens for the next 90 minutes, firing shots over her head or into the ground. “Tell me you love me,” he screamed at Lowery-Stevens. “Tell me you’re not going to leave me.”

Lowery-Stevens alternately begged Morgan to stop and cussed at him. “Shoot me! Kill your baby!” she yelled.

Lowery-Stevens was not pregnant, the coroner said.

Richard Morgan tried to intervene, but neither would listen.

He checked at 5 a.m. and found them asleep in the car. Ninety minutes later, he heard his son’s car drive off.

Morgan wasn’t gone long. He came back 10 minutes later, saying his car was “trashed.” It was found damaged up the lane. He took off in his father’s car, only to again return five minutes later to reload the rifle.

When the Sunday morning telephone call brought news of her granddaughter’s death, it didn’t surprise Lowery.

“I think it was her time, time for it to end. … God wanted her home. She wasn’t happy here, maybe she is there.”

rludlow@dispatch.com