An 8-year-old girl apparently slept through the fatal shootings of four family members, then awoke and alerted a neighbor that something horrible had happened overnight, pointing investigators to the rural home, where they found a television in her bedroom still playing cartoons. A short time later, nearly 100 miles away, one of the girl's relatives was killed in a shootout with police, who didn't know then that he was suspected in the quadruple homicide.
Randle Lee Roberts II died in the shootout in Columbus on Saturday about an hour after the girl went out the back door of her pale blue, one-floor modular house and ran to a neighbor's home. The neighbor called authorities, who were stunned by what they found at the girl's home, situated along a two-lane highway amid rolling green hills just outside West Union, about 90 miles southeast of Columbus.
When authorities arrived, Adams County Sheriff Kim Rogers said, cartoons were playing on a TV in the girl's room _ where Roberts had been staying for several months, apparently because he was a burglary suspect and there were warrants for him in the Columbus area. Court records show Roberts, 27, faced felony charges of burglary and receiving stolen property late last year and failed to appear in court.
Investigators learned Roberts had told the girl Friday night she could sleep in her own room and he'd take the couch instead.
"We were unaware he was here," Rogers said. "I don't know what set him off."
The neighbors hadn't heard anything, and there were no signs of a struggle, the sheriff said. The girl's 34-year-old mother, Kendra Stephens, and 11-year-old sister, Harley, were found in one bedroom. The door to a second bedroom was locked, so authorities broke through a window to find 46-year-old Sonja Stephens dead in bed.
In the living room, upright in a chair, they found 68-year-old George Stephens, grandfather of Roberts' wife. Authorities are trying to clarify how the others are related.
Investigators believe they were shot with a semiautomatic weapon but still are evaluating evidence. Roberts had a concealed-carry permit from Franklin County that had expired in January, authorities said.
Neighbor Karen Kimmerly, whose children rode the bus with the Stephens girls, said the killings were a shock to the rural southern Ohio community, which she compared to the idyllic small town on "The Andy Griffith Show."
"I consider this like a Mayberry town," she said. "This should be a sanctuary."
People coming out of a Sunday service at Bible Baptist Church, across the street from the Stephens' home, conveyed a feeling of reverence and turned grim-faced when asked about what happened. Several said it wasn't appropriate to discuss such things on a Sunday.
Investigators interviewing neighbors had quickly learned Saturday that Roberts had stayed at the home but that he was from Columbus and that his wife worked in that area, so they called police there.
"At that point, they didn't know we were looking for him, and we didn't know he was involved in a shootout," Rogers said.
As Adams County authorities were beginning their investigation, police in Columbus had responded to two calls about shots fired into homes and ended up pursuing a vehicle driven by Roberts. He crashed the two-tone pickup truck in a residential area, fired at the officer chasing him and ran off, evading authorities for more than 10 minutes before a shootout erupted at about 11 a.m., police Sgt. Rich Weiner said.
Roberts had tattoos that helped authorities in both areas confirm they were talking about the same man.
Three officers were shot in the exchange and were treated for injuries that weren't life-threatening.
Another man who was shot also was hospitalized with injuries that weren't life-threatening. Police said the man was related to Roberts but didn't say how. He wasn't charged.
An autopsy for Roberts is planned this week, and autopsies on the four members of the Stephens family are expected to be done by Monday.
Franko reported from Columbus.