CRESTVIEW — A quiet Hub City neighborhood became the center of a triple-homicide investigation Saturday when authorities responded to a shots fired call at 179 Peoria Boulevard in the Sandy Ridge subdivision.
As Crestview Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators continued processing the crime scene Sunday morning, authorities released the names of the four people involved in an incident that still appears to have more questions than answers.
PHOTOS: Triple homicide in Crestview >>
Found dead at the scene were 47-year-old Kevin T. McGrath and 42-year-old Shanna L. McGrath, identified as the husband and wife who owned the residence where the shooting occurred at approximately 10:45 a.m. Saturday. In a press release from Crestview PD, it noted the couple’s bodies were discovered inside the home when deputies arrived on scene.
Also killed in the shooting was 22-year-old Elbert L. Merrick III of Milton. Merrick’s body was discovered outside the residence in the roadway on Peoria Boulevard.
The fourth person involved was identified as 22-year-old Jacob R. Langston, who authorities say is a resident of 179 Peoria Boulevard. Langston, taken by medical helicopter to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, was listed in stable condition Sunday. According to the statement from Crestview PD, he suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds to his arm and shoulder.
Sunday morning, the police tape was down and the Sandy Ridge neighborhood was quiet again. But that was about the only thing that resembled normal for residents.
A neighbor who lives across from the McGraths said she wasn’t overly friendly with the family, but that they were nice.
“We waved at each other,” she said. “We’d never thought ...”
When police and emergency crews arrived Saturday morning, the woman said she had no idea what was going on.
Recent multiple murders
The area’s last case of this magnitude involving multiple murders occurred in July 2014 when triple-homicide suspect Derrick Ray Thompson was charged in the shooting deaths of Milton couple Steven and Debra Zackowski, and Panama City businessman Allen Johnson.
Still awaiting trial for those alleged shootings, Thompson is facing first-degree murder charges by prosecutors in both Santa Rosa and Bay counties. Formerly of Milton, he is being prosecuted in both counties simultaneously, and faces a minimum of life in prison if convicted.
In August 2015, Barry Davis received the death sentence from a Walton County jury after being found guilty for the May 7, 2012, murders of John Gregory Hughes and Heidi Rhodes Davis.
Neighbor: ‘It’s heartbreaking’
At the McGraths’ home Sunday, Christmas decorations were still hanging from the window. There was a knocked-over planter beside the front door and the Sunday newspaper was lying untouched in the driveway.
Veronica Ferrell, who lives on nearby Prescott Street, said she was out for a morning run around the time of the homicide.
“I walked right by their house around 10:30 in the morning ... it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
A resident in the Sandy Ridge subdivision for the past two years, Ferrell said there’s never been an act of violence in the neighborhood. When she saw first responders, she assumed there was a fire.
When news of the shooting deaths was confirmed, a post went up on the private Sandy Ridge HOA Facebook group that wished prayers to the McGrath family.
Social media rumors
Authorities are trying to squelch social media rumors which strongly suggest the case is a murder-suicide attempt.
Crestview PD said in a statement: “We encourage everyone to avoid speculation in this case, as there has been an abundance of false rumors circulating amongst social media … The Crestview Police Department will be the only source of information being released in this case and we encourage everyone to be patient as the investigation continues.”
Sunday morning, a Crestview Police patrol car slowly drove around the subdivision as kids rode their bikes and residents walked their dogs.
Amanda Flores has lived in the Sandy Ridge subdivision for almost five years, watching the new homes be constructed over the years, including the McGraths’ house. She was at work most of the day Saturday.
“My husband sent me a message about it and I was like, ‘What?’ ” she said. “When I came home around 4 p.m., there were still cop cars.”
Flores said she finds at least some comfort in the fact that it wasn’t a random act of violence. She can still let her kids play outside. They were riding scooters around her in the driveway Sunday.
“It makes you think ... how do you let yourself get to that level (of anger) to do something like that to your own family or people that you know,” she said. “I don’t understand that.”
Family dog now stable
As a side note to the human life involved in the shooting, the McGraths’ pet Weimaraner dog, which suffered gunshot wounds during the incident, was listed Sunday in stable condition at the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Niceville.
A spokesperson for the clinic said the female dog is scheduled to be transferred to Panhandle Animal Welfare Society in Fort Walton Beach on Monday.
PAWS animal control officer K. Schoeneman was called to the scene Saturday and took the Weimaraner to the clinic, where it was originally listed in critical condition.
According to Dee Thompson, executive director of PAWs, Schoeneman reported it appeared the dog had been shot three times. The animal will require surgery to its leg and jaw, plus any procedures related to internal injuries. The clinic said Sunday the surgical procedures will be conducted under the supervision of PAWs.
“He said from looking at the injuries, and this is strictly speculation, but from the injuries involved, (Schoeneman) said the dog may have been trying to protect someone,” Thompson said. “At this point, that’s speculation, but it appears that way.”
Thompson added two Maltese dogs were not injured in the shooting and were being cared for at PAWS.