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Police arrest suspect in shootings of five Texans

Monday, January 18, 2010 | 6:55 p.m. CST; updated 11:12 p.m. CST, Monday, January 18, 2010

BELLVILLE, Texas — Authorities working to determine what spurred a flurry of gunshots that left five people dead in southeast Texas are questioning a 20-year-old man who lived with the victims in the isolated house surrounded by pasture land.

Police said Monday the victims of the weekend bloodshed all lived in the single-story brick home in Bellville, a town of about 4,000 people located 55 miles northwest of Houston. They included a retiree and his wife, a younger woman and man, and a girl believed to be about 3 years old, police said.

Investigators were questioning a 20-year-old man, who remained jailed on burglary and attempted burglary charges after allegedly trying to break into a Bellville home.

The man — arrested about 3 a.m. Sunday after a homeowner pulled a gun on him — could face capital murder charges. Prosecutors are reviewing the case and could bring those charges. No one else is being sought and it does not appear any other people were involved in the shootings, Sheriff R. DeWayne Burger said.

Sgt. Paul Faircloth of the Austin County Sheriff's Office said authorities were still trying to determine a motive for the slayings. He said the sheriff's office received a call Sunday afternoon from a person who had gone to the home and discovered the crime scene. Deputies arrived and found four bodies inside the home.

Those found inside the house were identified as: George T. Washington, 69; his wife, Debra Washington, 54; Kiana Shree Thearse, 25; and Khalilah Masse-Chambers, about 3. A man found in the thick expanse of woods behind the house was identified as Cedric Thomas, 19.

Officials said they haven't determined the victims' relationship, but a relative of Debra Washington said both Thearse and the 20-year-old man in custody were Debra Washington's children.

Joanna Gutierrez, Debra Washington's cousin, drove from her home in Austin early Monday and arrived outside the home. She had to pause several times to gather herself as she talked about the family.

"It's just so devastating," she said. "It's so unbelievable."

Gutierrez described the Washingtons as a friendly couple who had lived in the house about two years, since moving from Houston.

"She doesn't know a stranger," Gutierrez said. "She's kind to everybody. He was the same way."

Archie Seals, the Washingtons' landlord who lives about a half-mile away, said he didn't know the couple all that well but liked them.

"They were well-respected," said Seals, who recalls George Washington offering friendly waves as worked in his large yard. "He had a smile on his face all the time. He and his wife were real nice."

The aging home sits on a large lot off a two-lane farm-to-market road across the street from a large plot of pasture land. The closest neighbors are several hundred yards away, and the home backs up to more pasture land, with thick woods behind it.

Several sheriff's department and Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles were parked in front of the home Monday, as a few head of cattle grazed behind the home.

Bellville drew attention in August with the shooting death of a physician at his ranch. Two suspects were arrested days later and charged with killing Jorge Mario Gonzalez of Houston.

Seals, who's lived in Bellville about 35 years, said he's shaken but not afraid.

"In the big cities, things happen, but even in small cities, things happen," he said. "But I most definitely feel safe here. I'm not going anywhere."

 


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