Family trouble

Richard, 52 and Leslie Jennings were having marital trouble. Leslie Jennings had filed a petition for divorce on June 13. She did not list any abuse or adultery in the petition, but only a  “discord or conflict of personalities … that destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage relationship.” The temporary order that was signed by the judge gave Richard visitation with the children, but did not address who would live in the family home. A relative has said the couple were concerned about the children and that they didn’t want them to be uprooted, so they were taking turns living there. Leslie would stay there 4 nights, and Richard would stay 3 nights. But the relative says that Leslie wanted to change that. A private investigator has come forward and reported that his office had served divorce papers on Richard Jennings on June 15. He has also stated that at a recent court hearing a judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevented Jennings from remaining at the home. This may have been related to  the complaint that Leslie had made that her husband had assaulted her.

Leslie and her children were active in their church, and the pastor says that Richard had begun attending occasionally. The pastor says that he was aware the couple were having “family trouble” and Leslie had asked the pastor to pray for her family, but she never mentioned any abuse. Richard had talked with his sister regularly and also asked her to pray for the family.

Police say they had been to the home a few times in the past year. And 3-4 weeks ago Leslie filed an assault complaint with the sheriff’s dept., but no charges were filed. Details on the complaints were not available.

At about 3 am on Friday their 13 or 14 son called 911. Reportedly he awoke to hear his parents arguing. Then he heard shots. And more shots. He tried to leave the home, and according to the sheriff, “He actually pushed the barrel of the shotgun away before fleeing from the house, and a shot was fired,” “He was very lucky to get out of there alive.” He managed to escape to a neighbors home, where he called 911 again. Some articles indicate there may have also been a 911 from the 7 year old daughter Carmen.

The first deputy who arrived at the scene approached the house was shot, apparently by Richard Jennings. He made his way back to his patrol car and called for backup. The next officers who arrived found Richard Jennings dead in the doorway of the home. It allegedly appears he was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and not by return fire from the deputy.

They also found 7 year old Carmen dead in a hallway, 11 year old Nathan was found dead in a closet where he had attempted to hide, and 43 year old Leslie dead in the master bedroom. Another 7 year old girl, who had been visiting Carmen that night, was also found hidden in the home, uninjured. According to the sheriff, “He knew she was there,” “It’s obvious to me that she was not a target of this assault. She was not a member of that family nor a target of the assault.”

It seems that this was not the Jennings family’s first contact with family violence. In 1993, Richard’s father Charles Edward Jennings was accused of strangling his mother to death. His trial was held in 1995, and Richard testified for his father, stating his mother “tormented” his father on a daily basis. His father pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter- he was given 10 years probation and a $1,000 fine.

The deputy was wearing a protective vest, but was seriously wounded and underwent surgery. He is reported to be in stable condition in the hospital.

The surviving child is now with relatives.

When I first read about these shootings, my first thought was to wonder why the deputy entered the home alone, their usual response if to wait for backup at violent scenes. Then I found this article that explains that question and I wanted to list it apart from the others.

Apparently when the officer drove up to the home, it was dark and somewhat isolated. He could hear the gunfire, and heard screaming from the home. And in a window of the home, he could see a young child standing there. So he had a choice to make. Wait for backup, or to try to protect the child.

What can you say about this? The first thing that struck me about the family was the effort they made for the children. Sharing the home, would certainly be best for the children during the transition, but is something that few couple’s will attempt. And while there are benefits for the children, there is potential for a lot of problems also. Still they attempted it, so that tells me where their priorities were.

The sister somewhat explained the background when she talked about Richard’s first divorce. She stated he “lost” two children in that divorce, but she mentioned that those children were now adults and that he was connecting with at least one daughter, by attending her church sometimes. So a second divorce would likely cause a strong fear that he would “lose” a second family. But in the sharing of the home, that indicates that Leslie was committed to keeping the children’s father in their lives. Yet if she was now talking about talking about changing that- he may have seen that as his children slipping away from him. Very likely he would not have seen the complaint against him for assault as being related to the fact that the situation was changing.

Somewhere out there is a 13 or 14 year old man/boy in a lot of distress. He has lost his father, his mother, his brother and his sister. And he knew that he was also a target. All at the hands of his father. And he was put into the position of being the one to attempt to stop what was happening. He did what he could by calling 911, but sadly thru no fault of his own, he was unsuccessful. Now he is left alone to grieve his entire family. And likely he will be going over and over that scenario in his mind, seeking something, some way he could have saved them. This is what sometimes leads to survivor guilt. There is nothing he could have done, yet he will wonder for a long time.

Besides the other family members, who will be dealing with a lot of grief, and what ifs of their own, this will have a large affect on the community. The couple would have had friends and acquaintances, the people they knew at church, and the friends of their children. This was only one family, but there will be a lot of reverberations in the community.

And there is also an innocent little 7 year old girl, on a sleepover with a friend that lived through a night that most of us cannot imagine. Pulled from sleep by arguing and gunfire, she lost her little friend. And she has no idea why it all happened.

It is interesting that although the pastor knew the family was having “family trouble” he was not aware of the abuse complaint. Leslie felt comfortable enough to tell him of the family trouble and to ask him to pray for the family. Yet she never mentioned the abuse. Yet that is not uncommon. Frequently the abuse victim will keep the fact that they have been abused quiet, or will downplay any abuse to friends, family, and even the courts.