Debt believed to be factor in family deaths

The Washington Post

The man who killed his wife and three young children and then himself in a tiny Frederick County town last week was at least $460,000 in debt and owned a Florida house that was in foreclosure, according to property records and police officials.

In one of six notes he left scattered about the rented house in Middletown, Christopher Wood, 34, described his financial hardships and his struggle with depression and anxiety - factors that investigators said they believe contributed to the killings.

Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins said that about half of the family's debt came from credit cards; the Woods were unable to sell the home in Jacksonville, Fla., and their mortgage was "way beyond their capability to pay," he said.

Records show the family bought the Florida home in 2005 with virtually no money down, taking on a $210,000 mortgage. The next year, they took out a second mortgage for $108,000. The property is assessed at $162,000, records show.

Still, Jenkins said, "No one ever dreamed of anything like this."

At a news conference Tuesday, authorities released new details about the killings, describing a scene more grisly than what had been known since the bodies were discovered Saturday morning.

According to investigators, Francie Billotti-Wood, 33, and the couple's 5-year-old son, Chandler, were each shot twice in the head with a .25-caliber handgun. Chandler's younger brother, Gavin, 4, was shot three times; daughter Fiona, 2, was shot once. After they were shot, their throats were slashed nearly to the point of decapitation, officials said. Wood killed himself with a shotgun.

Wood, a youth soccer coach, was paid $97,000 as a sales accountant for CSX Corp. His wife, who taught liturgy to children at their church, stopped working several years ago to be a stay-at-home mother.

Several experts said killings of entire families by fathers and husbands are often associated with economic hardship. Some men get to the point where it becomes impossible to tell family members that they're going to lose the house or the kids can't go to college, said Richard J. Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and an expert on family violence.

Jenkins said a baby sitter stopped by the Woods' home about 9 a.m. Friday to confirm that she would be watching the kids that night while Wood and his wife went to a church event. Wood canceled the baby-sitting engagement. Neither Chandler nor Gavin showed up at school that morning, officials said. Investigators said they think Wood had by then already killed his family, Jenkins said.

Billotti-Wood's father broke into their house on Washington Street on Saturday morning and discovered all five bodies, Jenkins said. The children were still in their pajamas. Wood left six separate notes, four individually addressed to his wife and children and one note apologizing to his mother, father and sister, Jenkins said.

The sixth note, which Jenkins described as a suicide note, described the family's financial troubles, Wood's day-to-day stresses and his continuing battle with depression, authorities said. In that note, Wood said that he was taking medications and that they were ineffective, Jenkins said.

Police seized anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs from the house, Jenkins said. He said toxicology tests will reveal whether Wood was using the drugs. Wood and Billotti-Wood moved to Middletown last summer, after a brief stay in West Virginia, authorities said. Billotti-Wood was raised in Middletown, and according to friends and postings on her blog, she was excited to be closer to friends and family.

The parents of Wood and Billotti-Wood released a joint statement yesterday.

"Chris and Francie shared a love for each other that was evident in their daily lives and interactions with others," the statement said. "Their devotion to their children was apparent to anyone even modestly acquainted with the family. ... We will always remember the sound of their laughter. And we rejoice in the knowledge that we will see them again someday when our Heavenly Father calls each of us home to his side."

Washington Post reporters Dan Morse and Steve Hendrix and Post researchers Meg Smith and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this article.

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