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Christmas slayings shock D.C. suburbs

Police: Man killed mother, three others before suicide



GREAT FALLS, Virginia (CNN) -- Police said Monday they were trying to determine what prompted a 27-year-old man to kill his mother on Christmas and then drive to another home in suburban Washington, where he killed three others before committing suicide.

"This is a tragedy and would be on any day, but its occurrence on Christmas Day only seems to highlight our sense of loss and makes our ability to comprehend that much more difficult," Fairfax County Police Chief Col. Dave Rohrer told reporters.

"Perhaps we'll never be able to answer the question which is most prevalent, and that is: Why?"

Maj. Bob Callahan, commander of the department's criminal investigations bureau, said Cheatham's record included several arrests for minor incidents.

He said Cheatham "had some contact with mental health" professionals, but the details were unclear.

Callahan said police were alerted to the shootings at 10:25 a.m., when they received a 911 call placed from inside a home in Great Falls, an affluent Virginia suburb of Washington.

Police said they arrived at the house four minutes later, finding a Ford Ranger pickup idling in the driveway, its cab empty.

Fearing the shooter could still be inside, police did not immediately enter the two-story house, but they did send a cruiser to nearby McLean, Virginia, to the address to which the truck was registered, Callahan said.

There, they found the body of Sheila Cheatham, 53, lying in the driveway behind the house.

An hour later, at 11:30 a.m., a 20-year-old man -- a member of the Price family, who lived in the house in Great Falls -- emerged from the basement, where he had hidden as gunshots were fired above and remained hidden until he was satisfied the shooting was over, Callahan said.

The man told police he had placed the original 911 call.

A SWAT team then entered the basement of the house and secured it; it was not until 2 p.m. that they searched the upper floor, where they found the bodies of three men and one woman, all of them shot dead in bedrooms, Callahan said.

The victims were identified as 50-year-old Janina Price, 19-year-old Adam Price and 20-year-old Christopher Buro, who lived at the house, which was decorated with a Christmas tree, Callahan said.

One body was found inside a closet, and two others were near beds, he said.

Callahan said Cheatham killed his mother -- whose house he had moved into during the last week or so -- around 9:30 or 10 a.m. Christmas Day, then drove to the Price family's house in Great Falls, where the shooting continued.

Though Callahan said the shooter knew the Prices, "We really do not know yet what motivated him to go up there and do what he did."

In all, Cheatham shot more than 50 rounds from a 9 mm handgun, and appears to have reloaded more than once, Callahan said.

The victims apparently were "attempting to get away, from the position of their bodies," Callahan said. The bedroom doors had been forced open.

Rohrer said there is evidence that Cheatham had asked to visit the Prices during a telephone call earlier Christmas Day, "and was asked not to."

"We don't know why that is or what would make the Price family ask that he not come over," he said.

Police were interviewing Cheatham's two brothers about his state of mind, "trying to figure out his real relationship with the Price family that would result in this apparent anger," Rohrer said.

Autopsy results will include toxicology tests, but they will not be available for at least two weeks, he said.

The family's black Labrador retriever, Max, was shot three times, but is doing well after emergency surgery, said Capt. Mike Spradlin.

Callahan said Cheatham's father lived outside Virginia.

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