3 family killings share pattern — (The Herald-Sun)

Original article no longer available

The Herald-Sun

November 30, 2004

By BETH VELLIQUETTE, The Herald-Sun

A week and a half before Randy McKendall shot and killed his estranged wife and then killed himself near the Friday Center on Monday morning, McKendall was hospitalized for trying to commit suicide by taking a drug overdose.

The two previous domestic violence homicides in Orange County also involved men who were involved with the mental health system shortly before they committed the crimes, said Amy Holloway, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Center in Chapel Hill.

Alan Gates, who shot and killed his daughter, her friend and her friend’s young son in 2002, reportedly had started taking prescription antidepressants and signed up for an anger management class.   

Rod Farb, who shot and killed his estranged wife, her friend and her daughter before killing himself in 2003, had been involuntarily committed to UNC Hospitals because he said he was suicidal but was released later the same day.

“There’s a pattern here,” Holloway said. “There’s a huge correlation between the threat of suicide and suicide-homicides.” Making threats of suicide when a person has had a restraining order filed against them can be a sign, Holloway said. “It’s a sign of lethality.”    

When Randy McKendall was a patient Nov. 18 in the Lee County Hospital after taking a drug overdose, that might have been a good time for an intervention, Holloway said. If someone had communicated with hospital officials that McKendall had been threatening suicide and was involved in a volatile domestic situation, there may have been an opportunity to have him committed to a mental hospital for treatment, she said.

County agencies need to improve communications between its agencies and systems, Holloway said. They cooperate when a child is abducted, and they cooperate when there’s a threat against a school, but sometimes the communications fail when it’s a domestic violence situation, she said.

“Communication across county lines is really important,” she said. “Because it was a domestic situation, did they not take it as seriously as they should have?”

The day after Shennel McCrimon McKendall was shot and killed by her estranged husband who then took his own life, authorities were wondering if anything more could have been done to prevent the murder-suicide.

Despite the domestic violence protection order that she had obtained against him, Randy McKendall drove to his wife’s workplace at the James T. Hedrick Building at the far end of Friday Center Drive, and as she walked from the parking lot to the building where she was a receptionist, Randy McKendall came up to her and shot and killed her. He then shot and killed himself.

UNC police were not releasing any more information about the incident Tuesday, saying it was still under investigation. They did say they had not determined where Randy McKendall obtained the 9 mm handgun he used. Chatham County Sheriff’s Office officials, who had been trying to help Shennel McKendall for the past several weeks in dealing with her husband, said they also didn’t know where he had gotten the gun.

Randy McKendall did receive a permit to purchase a gun from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in 1998-99, and it was good for five years. It is not mandatory for someone to report back whether they used the permit or not. He did not obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

In the weeks leading up to the shootings, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office arrested McKendall twice for violating a domestic violence protection order that Shennel McKendall obtained on Nov. 15. On Nov. 16, Shennel McKendall went to the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and told deputies that her estranged husband had called her from her home and said he was going to commit suicide. She said she heard two shots over the telephone and didn’t hear anything else.

When deputies went to check the home, Randy McKendall was not there, but the deputies saw that he had broken into the house and shot into a television and nightstand in his stepdaughter’s bedroom. Not too far away from the house, the deputies found Randy McKendall’s vehicle. The keys were still in it, and the car was out of gas, said Maj. Gary Blankenship.

The deputies took the keys to the car, and investigators speculated that Randy McKendall was prepared for a violent confrontation with his wife that day. “He brought a weapon,” Blankenship said. “In hindsight, it’s very possible.”

That day, the deputies found a shotgun in the home, and with Shennel McKendall’s permission, they confiscated that weapon.

Chatham officials had several more encounters with Randy McKendall before the shooting, and after he was released to a family member by Lee County Hospital following his suicide attempt.

Each time they searched his person but did not find any weapons.

“He was ordered by the court to turn over any weapons he had,” Blankenship said. “There was nothing in the order that required us to search for any weapon.”

After the McKendalls split up, Randy McKendall stayed at various residences, Blankenship said. “We would have had to have special permission to go search those places for weapons,” he said. “I think he wasn’t living at any one particular house. He was kind of staying here and there.”

When the deputies did pick McKendall up for violating the domestic violence order, they searched him thoroughly and did not find a weapon, Blankenship said. “And he denied he had any weapon,” he said.

Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox said he doubted law enforcement officers could have obtained a search warrant to search the home of someone with whom McKendall might have been staying. “I don’t know if you can get a search warrant for a place he doesn’t control unless you know there’s evidence of a crime there,” Fox said.

Many people have asked what could Shennel McKendall have done to better protect herself, Holloway said. “I think the question is not what she did but what other people may not have done or that they may not have taken it seriously,” Holloway said.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a comprehensive domestic violence bill in July and some of the laws have already gone into effect, with others going into effect today.

The bill requires domestic violence offenders to obtain treatment as a condition of their probation, and all convicted abusers must attend a program approved by the Domestic Violence Commission. It also mandates that basic law enforcement training include how to respond to and investigate domestic violence cases.

House Bill 1354 also mandates that law enforcement officers receive in-service training on domestic violence. It pro
vides funding for legal representation for victims of domestic violence in court-ordered proceedings and other services to provide safety for the client and the client’s children.

Effective today, the law makes non-fatal strangulation a felony, and specifies that a person can be charged with the felony of habitual misdemeanor assault after two or more convictions for misdemeanor or felony assaults. Previously, the law required five prior convictions, and two of them had to have been assaults.

The bill creates tougher laws for dealing with domestic violence, said Beth Froehling, public policy specialist for the N.C. Coalition for Domestic Violence.

“It really does send a message that our state is taking this crime seriously,” she said. “Whether or not it could have made a difference in this case, it’s hard to say.”

In the end, the responsibility for Monday’s murder and suicide remains with one person, Holloway pointed out.

“He should not have killed her,” she said. “It’s as simple as that.”