BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Police are investigating the deaths of seven people found Saturday in a mobile home as a murder-suicide involving mostly members of one family, a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation told the Florida Times-Union.
The law enforcement source and a woman familiar with the victims and the trailer park in the New Hope Plantation, said most of the victims were family members of Rusty Toler, a hard-working, soft-spoken man who loved his children.
Toler and three of his four children are among those dead, while a fourth child is hospitalized in critical condition, said the woman who knows the family. Another gravely wounded victim, said to be a grandchild of Toler's, is also hospitalized, the woman said.
The other dead include a man and woman who are either direct siblings or half-brother and half-sister to Toler. A seventh victim was the boyfriend of one of Toler's daughters, according to the source.
Tight-lipped Glynn County police chief Matt Doering was planning a news conference today to further discuss what he described as a "horrific" scene in the area's worst carnage ever.
The son of one of the victims found them about 8 a.m. Saturday in the mobile home park 10 miles north of Brunswick. State medical examiners are working today to determine how the victims were killed.
The survivors were taken to a Savannah hospital for treatment, and the seven bodies are at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Savannah crime lab for autopsies.
Doering reported no arrests Saturday night and said then he was unsure if the person or persons responsible for the killings are among the dead - or still on the loose.
"Do I believe there's someone else out there? The answer is I don't know, I wish I could tell you more," Doering said.
Some of the victims have been tentatively identified, but Doering said Saturday he would release no names or ages until the next of kin were notified. He said there were some school-age children and middle-age adults among the victims.
County Coroner Jimmy Durden said the victims appeared to have been killed overnight. Their bodies were discovered lying on the floor and beds inside the mobile home.
Because of the severity of the injuries, their identities and manner in which they were slain could not be readily determined.
Single-wide, older mobile homes line at least eight rows, 12 homes deep, in rural New Hope. The grounds, most of which are mowed, are peppered with oaks and other trees and the park itself is surrounded by forest.
The grisly crime left the community in shock and tears, and the ripples quickly spread.
Even as the bodies were still being moved from the scene, news of the slayings played prominently on the three televisions at Mudcat Charlie's, a restaurant on the Altamaha River a few miles north. The sound on the TVs was turned up and customers leaned forward to listen.
Elena Pipes, a waitress at the restaurant, said area residents are troubled by an unusual rash of killings: Saturday's slayings and two others a week ago.
"It's not something you hear here every day," said Pipes, 38. "It's kinda freaking everybody out."
Ruthie Saunderson of Brunswick said she was scared and angry as she pumped gas at a convenience store not far from the slaying scene.
"I'm scared and my momma's scared, too. Why don't they [tell] us what happened? We need to know if somebody is out there breaking into homes, killing people," she said. "I feel bad for the people who got killed, whoever they are. I want to know if me or my family is next."
Doering said about one-third of his staff of 114, including 20 detectives, are working the case. Federal agencies have offered help.
"There has not been such a number of victims, that I know of, in the history of this county,'' he said.
Hours later, he added: "It's sad anytime this happens in any community. I want our local folks to know that we're taking it as serious as we can take it."
About 12:40 p.m. Saturday, a woman came to the scene, spoke briefly to some residents and then began screaming.
"They killed my boy,'' she said.
She and the young man who drove her to the park spoke with an officer.
A man who lives next door said he heard dogs barking Friday night and again Saturday morning but heard no shots or any other alarming sounds.
Another neighbor said he was told someone kicked in the front door of the mobile home and started shooting.
Cameron Serrant, 17, has lived in the mobile home park for five years and said there had been little trouble until now.
"I didn't expect it to happen here," Serrant said. "It's quiet. No trouble."
When nearby residents heard about the deaths, some came to the park to check on the well-being of those inside. Lea Anderson, a teacher at the nearby Janet Macon Middle School, said she was thankful to find a former elementary school student of hers safe.
"I wanted to come here to check on my Sarah," Anderson said of the 10-year-old girl she was holding close. "It's just crazy."
Of the deaths, Anderson said glumly, "It's going to be somebody I know."
Glynn County School Superintendent Howard Mann said Saturday he is preparing for the worst when school opens Monday.
Mann has advised schools to have grief counselors ready Monday in case a student was killed.
Even some hardened investigators needed help. The Rev. Tim Brown, a Baptist minister, drove slowly into the park about 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Doering said he was there to counsel officers working the crime.
A 28-year-old resident of the park, who declined to be named because she feared the killer was still on the loose, said she has lived in the park off and on for 20 years. She said she began seeing seedy people and unfamiliar cars coming into the park about 10 years ago. She said she suspected drug traffic was running through the park, though she never witnessed any deals.
"It's not the neighborhood it used to be," she said.
The yard outside the mobile home where the killings took place was littered with refuse and toys. The exterior walls were green with mildew. A box fan sat in a window that had no screen.
Police stretched crime scene tape around the dwelling and to others nearby, and officers worked out of a big mobile unit Glynn County police use for such investigations.
In explaining why he was releasing so little information, Doering said. "The key here is to not jeopardize the investigation."
"It's hard work to figure out what happened and why it happened."
The mobile home park is located near the center of New Hope Plantation. The 1,100-acre tract is all that remains of a Crown grant made in 1763 to Henry Laurens, who later succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress in 1777.
Laurens obtained control of the South Altamaha river lands and named it New Hope Plantation, according to the Web site.