Community in shock after Huntsville murder-suicide — (The Houston Chronicle)

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The Houston Chronicle

Dec. 5, 2006, 9:06PM

By KEVIN MORAN and CINDY HORSWELL,  kevin.moran@chron.com; cindy.horswell@chron.com

ZTA-Sam Houston State

Student murdered – Rachel Pendray, a sophomore pre-nursing major, was killed by Jake Taylor Sunday night in her Huntsville apartment.   Murder-suicide usually act of obsession

HUNTSVILLE — She did not reciprocate his romantic affections, but Sam Houston State University cheerleader Rachel Pendray never turned away from Jake Taylor.

When Taylor, 24, tried to kill himself with sleeping pills last month, she called medical help to his home in time to save his life. And when Taylor showed up at Pendray’s Huntsville apartment late Sunday, she let him in.

After the two spoke alone in a bedroom for a while, Pendray’s roommates heard gunfire. Police later forced their way into the locked bedroom to find Taylor had shot Pendray to death before turning a gun on himself.

The violence at Pendray’s off-campus apartment sent shock waves through university circles Monday, as students struggled to cope with a sadness rarely seen at this state educational institution 70 miles north of Houston.

Pendray, 20, a pre-nursing student and sorority member from Houston, evoked the furthest thing from sadness, with her sunny smile, blond hair and blue eyes. For Taylor, she became an obsession, Pendray’s roommates told university officials.

Though the two had attended Spring Woods High School in Houston, they graduated three years apart — Taylor in 2001 and Pendray in 2004 — and didn’t get to know each other until last year, while both attended Sam Houston State. Investigators said the two were “acquaintances” and never dated.

“Whatever their relationship was,” said Huntsville police Sgt. Gary Howze, “he apparently thought more of it than she did.”

Families in shock

Perhaps most telling was that Taylor’s mother knew all about Pendray and had given her son a gift to take to the young woman Sunday, while Pendray’s father said he had never heard of the young man who killed his daughter.

As both families planned funerals Monday, they could only look back and ask themselves why.

“I feel awful for Rachel and for her family,” said the gunman’s mother, Linda Taylor-Gonzales, as she sat in her son’s bedroom in west Houston. “I didn’t even know he had a gun or knew how to shoot a gun.”

Mark Scott Pendray choked back sobs Monday as he talked about his daughter, whom he raised as a single father for most of her childhood.

“She was an amazing girl. Rachel was an athlete. She started gymnastics at 2 1/2 . She was a very good swimmer and won district in diving at Spring Woods. She was in the choir, and she went on church mission trips,” he said.

Huntsville police went to Pendray’s home after getting a report about 11:45 p.m. Sunday of shots being fired at the Brook Place apartments at 5020 Sam Houston Ave.

Pendray’s roommates told officers they heard several gunshots inside her bedroom. Officers, getting no response from Pendray, broke into the room and found the bodies.

Pendray was shot three or four times in her torso, while Taylor had a gunshot wound to the head that appeared self-inflicted, police said.

The young woman’s roommates, all members of Zeta Tau Alpha, told university life personnel that Taylor’s interest in Pendray “was an obsession-type thing,” said Sam Houston State’s director of public relations, Frank Krystyniak.

Pendray’s roommates took refuge at the sorority house after the shooting, and the door to the sorority was plastered with her photos and the words, “In loving memory.” A steady stream of floral arrangements arrived throughout the day.

Taylor’s preoccupation with Pendray was recent.

“He knew of her but they didn’t really get to know each other until he went to Huntsville,” Taylor’s mother said, referring to a one-semester stint her son spent at Sam Houston State in 2005.

Suicide attempts

Although his friends and mother said they had no hint that Taylor might harm Pendray, his mother said Taylor tried to kill himself with sleeping pills on Oct. 25 and Nov. 16. The second attempt kept him in intensive care at Ben Taub Hospital for four days, she said.

Taylor called Pendray after his second attempt, and Pendray summoned help in time to save his life, his mother said.

Taylor-Gonzales traced the suicide attempts to her son’s dismissal from the varsity baseball team during his senior year at Spring Woods. Interest from major college scouts and Major League Baseball scouts stopped, and the star first baseman’s life spiraled downward, his mother said. She said he had been taking Celexa, a drug used to treat major depression, and an anti-seizure drug since his November suicide attempt.

“He felt like he was a failure, that he had nothing to offer anyone,” his mother said.

Taylor attended Tyler Junior College in 2001 before transferring to Galveston College in 2002. He spent one semester at Sam Houston State as a student in the spring of 2005, Krystyniak told the Chronicle.

Taylor-Gonzales said she believed her son and Pendray were on good terms because the two had exchanged calls and text messages in recent months. When her son left home to go see Pendray at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday, he carried a gift for her from his mother, a Christmas card containing a $100 bill.

Many became unnerved by Taylor’s interest in Pendray. Jesse Chambers, who lives in the apartment complex where the shooting occurred, said one of Pendray’s roommates thought Taylor was starting to act somewhat like a stalker. She did not want to give the roommate’s name.

“(Pendray’s roommate) remembered Taylor had visited Pendray a few times, and then had started calling her all the time. But she only thought of him as a friend,” said Chambers.

No complaints to police

On the night of the shootings, Pendray had gone to cheerleading practice, then received a call from Taylor.

“(Pendray’s roommate) said Taylor announced he was in town and really needed to see her. She didn’t want to meet him. But she agreed because she wanted to tell him that she didn’t want anything more to do with him,” Chambers said.

Pendray took Taylor straight to her room, Howze said, where they talked for about an hour before her roommates heard the shots through the locked door.

Investigators uncovered no record of Pendray filing any complaints about Taylor.

“We never could find any indication of her being scared of him,” Howze said.

Police recovered a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol lying next to Taylor but found no suicide note.

Walker County Justice of the Peace Richard Duncan pronounced both dead. The bodies were taken to the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office for autopsies.

Pendray’s high profile made her a visible part of the campus landscape, and her slaying left many students in shock.

“I saw her at a lot of games. She seemed like an absolute doll,” said Leani Bathold, a sophomore. “Nothing like this usually happens at Huntsville.”

Chronicle reporters Mike Glenn Peggy O’Hare contributed to this story.