A father killed his wife and three young children, then shot himself in an apparent murder-suicide that authorities are calling this quiet Frederick County community's "worst, most horrific event" in decades.
Frederick County sheriff's deputies found the bodies in the family home after receiving a 911 call from a relative shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday. The father, identified as Christopher Alan Wood, 34, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said. Wood's 33-year-old wife, Francis Billotti-Wood, and their three children were each shot once and also sustained "traumatic cut injuries," although authorities said autopsies would determine the exact cause of their deaths and how long they had been dead.
Authorities also said they found five handwritten notes at the scene indicating that Christopher Wood, an employee at CSX, may have had psychological and financial problems.
A 5-year-old boy and a 4-year-old boy were found in their beds, said Cpl. Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office. A 2-year-old girl was found with her mother in a bed in the master bedroom, Bailey said. Wood's body was found on the floor of the master bedroom, she said.
Police did not release the children's names. In a blog that Billotti-Wood maintained, she identified her children as Chandler, Gavin and Fiona.
Authorities found a shotgun near Wood's body and a 25 mm handgun in the kitchen and also removed several unidentified items that were possibly used in the killings, said Chuck Jenkins, the Frederick County sheriff, along with the notes, which were believed to have been written by the father. Jenkins described the notes as "someone's final thoughts" and said that they indicated "psychological problems." He added that in one of the notes, "he did say he was sorry."
"It was the worst, most horrific event I've seen in all my years," said Jenkins, who has worked for the Frederick County sheriff's office more than 20 years.
The sheriff said detectives had interviewed more than 50 people and were still piecing together a possible motive. Christopher Wood worked in the sales and marketing department of CSX, according to Garrick Francis, director of corporate communications. Jenkins said that while Wood was employed, "there may have been some debt problems from financial problems."
The grim discovery happened about 9 a.m. when Billotti-Wood's father went to the family's two-story yellow clapboard house in the first block of Washington Street after he had not heard from them in a couple of days, authorities said. The man forced entry into the house and found the bodies, then called 911.
The slain mother grew up in Middletown, but the family had just moved back to the area from Florida in August after being transferred by Christopher Wood's employer, according to Susan Moody, a neighbor who lives nearby on Jefferson Street.
"She was very friendly," said Moody, whose daughter had attended Middletown High School with Billotti-Wood, who was nicknamed "Francie," Moody added, "She was nice to everybody. ... She always decorated the house for all the holidays - Halloween, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day. It's hard to believe it happened. She was a vibrant young woman."
Billotti-Wood's parents were founding members 23 years ago of Holy Family Catholic Community in Middletown, according to the Rev. J. Kevin Farmer. The family, which had been attending the church since they returned to the area, was at the church on Easter Sunday, Farmer said. The wife had recently begun teaching Sunday school there, he said.
"We're all in shock," Farmer said. "This was a family that was an integral part of our family. It's a huge loss."
Farmer said he often saw the children playing outside. "They were happy," he said. "They were joyful kids."
At a 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday, the congregation "paused in prayer" for the family, he said.
Jane Durant, the director of Middletown United Methodist Church Preschool, said she last saw the slain mother, Francis Billotti Wood, on Thursday morning, when she picked up her 4-year-old son at the school.
The boy didn't come to school the next day. Durant, the school's director, thought it was unusual. Now, she wonders if something horrible happened Thursday night.
Durant also described Wood as a vibrant, bubbly and loving person.
"I just talked to her every day and she's just one of those people you fell in love with right away," Durant said.
Mike Full, 51, a mortgage consultant, and his 15-year-old daughter, Bailey, huddled near the scene, where passers-by gathered throughout the day. "It's hard to believe something like this happens, especially with kids involved," said Full.
"It's terrible. When something like this happens, it's so unexpected, especially in a small town like Middletown."
Bailey, who said she knows relatives of the family, said she found out about the family's deaths through Facebook. "People statuses [said] rest in peace and stuff," she said.
"It's awful. It's hard to grasp. I don't even know them, but I feel so awful."