A 38-year-old man who apparently shot and killed his 3-year-old son before killing himself Thursday in their Bel Air home carefully planned out the incident, police said.
The Harford County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the apparent murder-suicide that left Jason Douglas DeWitt and his son, Grayson DeWitt, dead.
Police were called to the house in the 600 block of High Plain Drive, shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday after a friend of DeWitt’s called 911, indicating DeWitt might be suicidal.
Harford Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said the situation was orchestrated enough that investigators believe that the father and son already were dead by the time deputies arrived at the house.
“I think that all indications at this point are … that the suspect had placed things in place so meticulously that he had committed this act before the friend was able to call 911,” Gahler said. “Before deputies arrived on the scene, it is most likely both subjects were deceased.”
Gahler said DeWitt’s friend who call 911 told dispatchers DeWitt had dropped a box at the friend’s house earlier that day, asking him to hold onto it for safekeeping.
Just before 6 p.m., DeWitt called the friend and told him to open it. Inside were objects and notes suggesting he planned to harm himself and possibly others, Gahler said.
When deputies arrived at DeWitt’s house to check on him, nobody answered, he said. Deputies entered the home and found a locked door on the second floor with a note on it.
The note said there were explosives in the home, so the team retreated and called for additional backup, the sheriff said. No explosives were found in the house, Gahler said.
Police blew open the window to the room with foam projectiles and saw that it was not rigged to explode, he said.
A few hours later, after repeatedly trying to contact the residents, deputies entered the room and found DeWitt and his son dead from gunshot wounds, Gahler said.
“You have to think mental health has to be a factor here for someone to do something so horrendous,” Gahler said.
Gahler said the sheriff’s office had not responded to that house before, and DeWitt was not on their radar before Thursday. It was a rare, irregular situation, the motive for which remains under investigation.
“I do not think that we are ever going to have an answer to why because you cannot make sense of something so senseless,” he said.
The boy’s mother, who lived at the house, was not at home during the incident, Gahler said. While she was not physically harmed, the sheriff expressed concern about her mental well-being.
“What mother could be alright, for the rest of her life, moving forward after the loss her 3-year-old?" the sheriff said. “I can’t imagine that sense of loss.”
Friday morning, the street was quiet. In front of DeWitt’s home, a stuffed animal leaned against the home’s mailbox in view of a shattered window on the second floor. Spent shell casings from the foam rounds were strewn on the grass and sidewalk.
Neighbors remembered DeWitt as a quiet man who mostly kept to himself and showed no inclination toward the kind of violence that occurred Thursday.
Tae Park, DeWitt’s next-door neighbor, said he did not see DeWitt out of the house very often.
DeWitt was a drum teacher who worked from home, Park said. He heard no gunshots before or after the sheriff’s deputies descended on the street.
The deputies asked Park to move to the house next door as a safety precaution, he said. He heard deputies calling DeWitt’s name, asking him to come to the front door. They got no response, Park recalled.
“I am assuming the gunshot went off before the police came,” he said.
Only a week before their deaths, Park saw DeWitt and his son Grayson playing outside.
Andy Wentsel was friends with the family and their other next-door neighbor. Though he described DeWitt as introverted, he had occasion to speak with him when their children played in the backyard, or when Grayson celebrated his third birthday this past summer. Wentsel’s daughter is 5 years old.
The two cracked “dad jokes” and talked about fixing and tinkering with things, he said. At no point, Wentsel said, did he ever expect something like Thursday’s events.
“I have been going over in my mind every time I talked to him because I thought, ‘How do you miss something like that?’ ” Wentsel said.
Mark Bowling, who lives on High Plains Drive, said he almost never saw DeWitt on the street. The community is small, and most residents know each other in a neighborly way, but DeWitt was rarely outside.
Bowling said he never thought an event like this would take place on the quiet street.
“It’s hard because he killed him,” Bowling said.
A memorial service for Grayson DeWitt is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the McComas Celebration of Life Center in Jarrettsville, according to the boy’s obituary. Visitation will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the center. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Brandon Tolson Foundation, 1443 Rock Spring Road, Bel Air, MD 21014.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division at 410-836-5442.
If you or someone you know is suffering with a mental health issue or thoughts of suicide, call the The Klein Family Harford Crisis Center at 800-NEXT-STEP or 410-874-0711, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or the Maryland Crisis Hotline is 800-422-0009.