When Andrea Dora Simmons returned to her husband after a six-month separation, moving herself and the couple's two sons back into their modest Glen Burnie rancher, neighbors thought the family had patched up its troubles.
Since the reconciliation about a year ago, all appeared calm within the Simmons household, said neighbors who recalled the couple as quiet and friendly.
But yesterday, after police said Frank E. Simmons chased his two sons out of the house wielding a .32-caliber pistol, shot his wife to death, then killed himself, Blossom Lane residents found out how little they knew their neighbor of nearly a decade.
"After she came back, I thought it was going fine," said next-door neighbor Claire Glase, a 40-year resident of the Pine Terrace community just blocks from Harundale Mall. "Apparently it didn't go. I could not believe it. Somebody, to do a thing like that, has to be carrying a heavy load."
Most neighbors said they didn't know police had been called April 30 to the couple's home because of arguments, or that the Simmons were going through a divorce, which police say led to the early Monday morning shootings.
"It was really sad, I never expected that," said Jean Anderson, who said the Simmons' two boys often crossed the street to play basketball in the driveway with her children. She said she'd heard "his divorce was final yesterday, and he wasn't leaving until it was final."
Early Monday morning, the couple had been arguing, said Officer Terry Robey, county police spokesman. Frank Simmons, 46, pointed a pistol at Andrea Simmons' 14-year-old son from a previous relationship and at the couple's 12-year-old son, Robey said.
As the boys escaped through the back door, they heard several clicks of the revolver, she said. Once outside the house, they heard two gunshots as they ran to a pay phone at Fifth Avenue and Greenway. At 1:42 a.m., the boys called police, who met them and brought them back to the house.
After police yelled into the home and a dispatcher phoned in, drawing no response, about 10 police from the Special Operations Section entered through the back door at 3:49 a.m.
They found the entire house in disarray, with Frank Simmons and his 33-year-old wife dead from gunshot wounds on the floor of the master bedroom, Robey said. Police found a .22-caliber rifle and the pistol in the room.
Police said they did not know which weapon was used or why the couple had been arguing. The bodies were taken to the Baltimore medical examiner's office for autopsies to determine how many times each victim had been shot.
Most neighbors said Simmons had never displayed any signs of violence. They described him as an unemployed cement finisher with a back injury who had done odd jobs, such as carpentry and yard work.
Glase, the next-door neighbor, said her family had had disagreements with the Simmonses over the Simmonses' large dog, which she said kept her family awake at night with its barking. Glase said her son, a construction worker, once threw something into the Simmonses' yard to silence the dog and "Mr. Simmons grabbed my son and bloodied his nose."
But others, such as Robert A. Shenton, who lives across the street, described Simmons as friendly.
"He wasn't one to carry his troubles on his shoulders," Shenton said.
Added neighbor Charles Jones, "They were very nice people. They minded their own business and didn't bother anybody. He'd be out there working on his yard or working on his truck, and every time he'd see you he waved his hand and hollered."