Shepherd shooting motive revealed — (The Journal-News)

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The Virginia Journal-News

By NAOMI SMOOT / Journal Staff Writer

March 20, 2007

MARTINSBURG ­ Mental illness has been named as the motive in a murder-suicide that left a father and his two sons dead at Shepherd University last Labor Day weekend.

Douglas Pennington, 49, shot and killed himself and his two children on Sept. 2 in front of Thacher Hall, a Shepherd University dormitory where one of the young men had been living. Logan Pennington, 26, and Benjamin Pennington, 24 ­ both students at the college ­ were shot multiple times before their father turned his .38-caliber revolver on himself.

A police report compiled by Trooper First Class K.W. Martin described how Douglas Pennington purchased the gun used in the shootings from Knobley Farms Liberty Store in New Creek two days before the incident.

The Journal obtained the police report by filing a Freedom of Information Act request in October. The report was completed Jan. 30.

Douglas Pennington left behind both a series of notes, found in the car that he drove to the school, and a notebook found at his Scherr home. In both, he talked about his internal battles, his love for his family, and the feelings of guilt and pain that surrounded his life.

“I see what I’ve done and I see what’s coming for my family and I can’t let that happen to them,” he wrote in the notebook. “I lose anyway I turn, and so do they.”

Pennington penned four pages in his notebook.

“How can I possibly do what I have to do? I can’t stand the thought of one hair of their head being harmed, and now I’m forced to do something to spore [sic] them any more suffering,” he wrote.

Douglas Pennington said in the documents that, “I see Ben being taken from us (coming up missing, taken somewhere and tortured and killed).” He said that if that were to happen, it would destroy the whole family. To keep them from enduring this pain, Douglas Pennington said, “I must do the unthinkable.”

Douglas Pennington had been under the care of a mental health physician who worked for Western Maryland Health Systems, in Cumberland, Md., family members told the police. He had missed two appointments at the facility with Dr. Michael Ehlers. According to Douglas’ mother, Mary Pennington, Douglas Pennington had been experiencing negative side effects from his medication, and the medicine had made “him senile for months.”

Family members told police they attempted to have Douglas Pennington hospitalized for problems associated with his mental illness. Those attempts failed, and on Aug. 31, Pennington purchased a .38-caliber weapon.

On Sept. 2, he traveled more than two hours from his family’s home in Scherr to the Shepherdstown campus where his sons attended college.

Police found additional letters inside the car. These letters, scribbled on a series of envelopes, again mentioned Pennington’s fears that his son Benjamin was going to be taken from the family.

“I don’t know what to do. Time is running out. I wish we were all together. I love you Becky,” he wrote to his wife, adding, “Please understand. I can’t explain.”

Douglas Pennington arrived on the nearly deserted campus shortly before 2 p.m.

At approximately 2 p.m., witnesses said they saw Douglas Pennington and his sons standing in the parking lot. He fired his weapon at one son, and then shot the second son as the younger man attempted to run from the scene. Douglas Pennington then turned the gun on himself.

Police officials interviewed several family members, many of whom said that Pennington was battling a mental illness.

Tiffany Ardisson, who was in a long-term relationship with Benjamin, told police that Ben was with her just moments before the incident. He left after receiving a call from his brother, Logan, who asked him to come to the parking lot to say goodbye to their father.

Ardisson told police that she was worried when Benjamin left and feared that “something bad was going to happen.” Douglas Pennington was acting differently for several days prior to the incident, and visited the two boys on campus more frequently, according to witnesses.

Police talked with Ardisson several hours after the incident occurred. They also traveled to Scherr that Saturday to check on Rebecca Pennington, Douglas Pennington’s wife and the young men’s mother.

She was not at home when police arrived. Several minutes later, at approximately 3:36 p.m., police learned from Jefferson County 911 Headquarters that Rebecca Pennington heard about the incident and was on her way to City Hospital, where Benjamin was taken.

Douglas Pennington was taken to Washington County Hospital, while Logan Pennington was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital. All three men were pronounced dead from injuries sustained during the shooting.

Douglas Pennington, in the note, made a final plea to his wife, “Please put us all together somewhere sorry I can’t do this. [sic] I can’t do this. I can’t stand the thought of them suffering anymore.”

“It’s all my fault, so sorry, Becky,” he wrote.

­ Staff writer Naomi Smoot can be reached at (304) 263-8931, ext. 183, or nsmoot@journal-news.net

Section: News    Posted: 3/20/2007