Indiana County man arrested in slayings of wife, 2 daughters
Hours before he was charged on Saturday, stunned neighbors watched state police handcuff an Indiana County man outside his burning mobile home, then saw firefighters weeping in anguish.
Inside the South Mahoning house, said Ron Smail, lay the bodies of his young granddaughters, Sara, 6, and Amanda, 11, their throats cut. In another burning mobile home some 15 minutes away, Smail's daughter, Christine Beatty, also lay dead on Friday evening, he said. She had rented the home after separating from her husband, Lewis Beatty.
State police charged Beatty with three counts of criminal homicide, according to officials at the Indiana County Jail. District Judge Guy Haberl ordered Beatty held without bail, a jail sergeant said. State police would not release details of the slayings or detail charges against Beatty, 40, until a news conference on Monday.
Neighbors, in the meantime, tried to understand what had happened by trading bits of information on Facebook pages or in sorrowful conversations.
"We're all just in shock right now," said Randy Stear, 50, of Indiana, a parishioner of the The Presbyterian Church of Plumville, where the Beatty family had attended services and the young girls had gone to Sunday school and Bible classes. Parishioners gathered there yesterday to pray and comfort each other, many with tear-filled eyes.
Stear composed a message outside the church on a sign that read, "We love you Chris, Amanda and Sara."
Smail in an interview at his Cowanshannock Township home said he learned the details of his daughter's and granddaughters' deaths during a phone call from Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker.
"We always feared this would happen, but hoped it never would," said Smail, who described his son-in-law as having a temper, once breaking a knuckle in punching a garage door, but never physically harming his wife or daughters. He said Beatty seemed to become more controlling of his family in the past several years.
"It was always his way or no way," Smail said.
Smail said Baker told him that Christine Beatty and her daughters had bled to death, their throats slashed. He said Baker also told him that the family's pet pony, goat and dog had been shot to death.
Baker's official statement did not identify the victims but said that all three were members of the same family. Details would be released in cooperation with state police and Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty, Baker said.
Dougherty could not be reached for comment yesterday. He told The Indiana Gazette that the deaths were tied to two fires reported about an hour apart at homes separated by roughly 10 miles, The Associated Press reported.
Authorities, neighbors and family said firefighters first responded to a fire at the Beatty home along Morrow Road in South Mahoning about 7 p.m. There, according to neighbors Beryl and Sally Lydic, Lewis Beatty showed no emotion as state police handcuffed him outside his smoldering home, the back of it badly scorched.
"That was just Lewis," Sally Lydic said.
Richard Oberlin, the owner of the East Mahoning mobile home that Christine Beatty rented, said that a Morrow Road neighbor called him at 8 p.m., describing the horrific scene unfolding 10 miles away, desperately searching for Christine Beatty.
Oberlin said he walked to the mobile home behind his house and found it on fire. The flames destroyed the building.
"We're still in shock," Oberlin said. "They were such nice people. The little girls were wonderful." He said the girls spent time at both homes.
Police did not say which deaths occurred first.
"By Monday, we should have much more information to disseminate," Trooper John Matchik said. He described the homicides as an isolated incident.
"There's no risk to anybody else at this point," Matchik said.
The Lydics said that about 3 p.m. Friday, they heard shots from the Beatty property. Lewis Beatty appeared a short time later to return some keys to the Lydics. When they asked him about the shots, Beatty said he was shooting at a groundhog.
Beatty was treated at Indiana County Medical Center on Friday night, according to a spokesman. Because of patient privacy laws, the spokesman said he could not provide more information.
Ron Smail said Christine's family and friends had begged her for years to leave her husband. The pair, married for about eight years, recently separated, though Smail said the two had not begun formal divorce proceedings. Counseling sessions through the couple's church did not work, Smail said. The couple shared custody of the girls, he said.
Christine Beatty was a teller at Marion Center Bank, and Lewis Beatty worked as a steelworker at a local foundry, he added. Amanda was in the fifth grade and Sara in kindergarten in the Marion Center Area School District.
Smail said Lewis Beatty had repeatedly tried to reconcile with his wife, but she recently told him that she would never go back to him. He added that she turned down a Friday dinner date with him, and he wondered if that had led to the deaths.