People terrorized by a serial killer who shot five people to death in their small community were relieved after police said they killed the man responsible. But with his death, an answer to the bloody spree could be lost.
"I still want to know why he did it," said truck driver Matt Brown, 55, of Gaffney. "Why he killed so many innocent people. I guess we'll never know."
His wife, Gina, 53, clutched her husband's arm. "Thank God it's over," she said. "We spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering who was next."
Suspected killer Patrick Burris, 41, was a career criminal paroled just two months ago, authorities said. He was shot to death by officers investigating a burglary complaint at a home in Gastonia, N.C., 30 miles from where the killing spree started June 27. Investigators did not have an address for Burris and said they had no idea why he did it.
"He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird," said Neil Dolan, deputy director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
Ballistics tests showed Burris's gun matched the one that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd said.
Burris had a long rap sheet filled with convictions for larceny, forgery and breaking and entering in states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving almost eight years.
"Look at this," Lloyd said, waving a stapled copy of Burris' criminal record. "This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street."
Gaffney farmer Sam Howell, 61, was among dozens of people from Cherokee County at the news conference where authorities identified Burris.
"My prayers were answered. He got what he deserved," Howell said. "He scared the hell out of everyone. I guess we can feel better but we've lost some of our innocence."
People who normally kept their doors open and welcomed strangers stopped trusting their own neighbors.
Gina Brown said she spent many sleepless nights worried about her family's safety. She called the couple's four adult children, who still live in the area, every night to tell them she loved them and make sure they were safe.
"They thought I was crazy, but they understood," she said.
The mystery ended in Gastonia early Monday after Mike and Terri Valentine called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighborhood.
The Valentines were on edge because the Gaffney serial killer was just a short drive away.
They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighboring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavyset, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mike Valentine said.
When officers arrived and went inside, Terri Valentine said she heard someone yell "put it down" and heard a gunshot.
Then "bam, bam, bam, bam. Next thing I know, all of Gaston County was here," she said.
Gaston County police said the other two people were in custody, but did not indicate whether they were facing charges.
The Gaffney killings happened in a 10-mile area over six days. Peach farmer Kline Cash, 63, was killed June 27 and 83-year-old Hazel Linder and her daughter, 50-year-old Gena Linder Parker, were found bound and shot in the older woman's home four days later. The next day, Stephen Tyler and his 15-year-old daughter Abby were found shot in their family's furniture store.
The investigation isn't over, and Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators will trace the suspect's recent activities and trying to figure out if he has killed other people in other places.
"Now we have someone we can focus on," Blanton said.
He said he hoped the resolution calmed the fears of 54,000 people in the county 50 miles west of Charlotte, N.C., known for its peach orchards and mills.
"We feel the victims' pain," Blanton said. "This isn't over. We're just changing gears."
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