A quiet, agricultural town in central Wyoming is reeling from a shooting spree after a man opened fire inside a mobile home, killing his three sons and a brother and wounding his wife, authorities say.
Scores of students from Wheatland High School gathered just after sundown Friday to hold a candlelight vigil for the three boys. The oldest was a student at the school. Many students were in tears as they took turns relating stories about their classmate.
Police found the bodies of the boys and the brother, who was fatally wounded, inside the trailer home Thursday in Wheatland, about 70 miles north of Cheyenne. The woman, Suzette Ann Conant, was shot twice but was listed in good condition at a Cheyenne hospital.
Everett E. Conant III surrendered without incident and was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, battery and a weapons violation. The murder and attempted-murder charges carry sentences of death or life without parole.
He was ordered held without bail on Friday. His court-appointed lawyer, Eric Palen, declined to comment. Police gave his age as 35 or 36.
Shackled at the wrists and ankles during the hearing, he whispered "yes" and "no" to the judge's questions.
Wheatland police Officer Doug Wiggins wrote in a court document that he was responding to a report of a shooting at the home. Conant yelled at him from the doorway and had something black in his hand, Wiggins said, adding that he saw what appeared to be the lifeless body of a male child on a couch.
The officer said he spoke with Conant for about 10 minutes before he persuaded him to leave the house without a weapon. He was arrested without further incident.
One neighbor said Suzette Conant ran from the home wounded after the shooting erupted on Thursday night.
"She kept screaming at me that her babies were dead. `He killed my babies!'" said Jessica Kornder, who lives in the same mobile home park. "I was in the kitchen doing some dishes after supper and I heard these two `pows,' and I thought it was fireworks. And then I heard this awful screaming."
She was shot in the ankle and shoulder, said Wheatland Police Chief Randy Chesser.
Conant's brother, Nacuma Roland Conant, 33, was taken to a Wheatland hospital where he was pronounced dead, Chesser said.
Authorities didn't immediately release the names of the other victims. But a judge referred to one of the sons as Joseph, and a court document referred to the others as "C.C." and "E.C." Their dates of birth weren't released, but the document indicates Joseph was 11 or 12, C.C. was 12 or 13 and E.C. was 17 or 18.
People at the vigil referred to the boys as Joseph, Charles and Everett. Chesser said a motive for the shootings wasn't immediately known. He also said he didn't know if the boys were Conant's biological children.
"It's pretty horrific. This is an unexplainable tragedy," Chesser said after the vigil. "We have three children from three separate schools. And this is only the high school that showed up, and it looked to me like we had three-quarters of the student body."
Jeanette Barber, a Wheatland teacher for the past 30 years, said after the vigil that she knew all three boys. She said they had an innocence and enthusiasm about them.
"I could do nothing last night but cry," Barber said. "This is not something that you would expect to have happen in our community."
Carmen Stockwell manages the kitchen at the Wheatland Middle School and also said she knew all three boys. "They were really very nice little boys, very polite. Always (said), `thank you.'"
Stockwell said Charles was in her school in the session that ended this spring. "He would always say he was having a good day. I'm going to miss him," she said.
As police officers wrapped up the crime scene, Chesser said at least one handgun _ possibly more _ was used in the shootings. Asked how many rounds were fired, he said simply, "a lot."
Conant worked briefly at the Wyoming Premium Farms hog farm just north of Wheatland this spring but quit after mentioning problems arranging child care, said Doug Derouchey, the general manager.
"Kind of kept to himself," Derouchey said. "He just mentioned something about he was having difficulties kind of working it out time-wise."
"He was, I think, having problems elsewhere," Derouchey said.
Suzette Conant works at an A&W restaurant in Wheatland, said Beth Horsley, a co-worker there. "She is the nicest person in the world. She didn't do anything to anybody," Horsley said.
A collection jar was set up at the A&W for donations for Suzette Conant's medical care and the family's funeral costs.
"It's just a very tragic thing," said Jean Dixon, mayor of this agricultural town of 3,600 people.
"It's hard to comment on something that just never occurs around here. It's like, `How can it happen?' This is a small community. We all know each other."
Wyoming, with about 560,000 residents, averages just under 11 murders a year, state officials said.
Associated Press writers Mead Gruver in Cheyenne and P. Solomon Banda, Catherine Tsai and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.