Three people. Three gunshots to the head. Three dead.
And many left to wonder why.
However, the sister of the female victim in Thursday’s double murder/suicide in Varnell said she saw it coming.
“I expected him to kill himself, and I even thought and mentioned it to other people that he wasn’t stable and would kill them all,” said Mandi Ball, the sister of Melissa Ball, who along with her 8-year-old son Grayden Lee Whitmore was shot and killed by Christopher Eric Whitmore, Grayden’s father. “I told my mom a couple of weeks ago that this was going to happen, but I couldn’t make (Melissa) get out of that situation. There are warning signs and we should have all seen it.”
When contacted Friday afternoon, Eric Whitmore’s brother Brian said the family asked for prayers.
“The only statement the family is willing to give is that we are very sorry for all of the families involved,” Brian Whitmore said. “We are praying for everyone involved in this.”
After shooting first Grayden, who turned 8 in January, and Ball in the head, Eric Whitmore put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger in the fueling bay at the combination McDonald’s and Shell convenience center on Cleveland Highway. The shocking events left the community shaken and put another spotlight on domestic violence.
Mandi Ball said she was afraid it was only a matter of time until some critical event happened between her sister and Eric Whitmore, who were in a relationship for more than 12 years. But Mandi Ball never thought it would end up in a double-murder/suicide that would tear a hole in her family.
Mandi Ball said Melissa endured a pattern of mental and physical abuse for years at the hands of her live-in boyfriend, who she shared a child with. But the two had separated earlier this year, and Melissa Ball had been living with her grandmother after finally not being able to stay in the relationship with Eric Whitmore any longer.
“She had been so mentally abused over the years,” Mandi Ball said. “He threatened to kill her a lot. He had told her so many times, she didn’t take it seriously. She knew that he was crazy, but I don’t think that she ever believed he would really hurt Grayden.”
Eric Whitmore, 36, had never been arrested on a domestic violence charge in Dalton or Whitfield County, had never been convicted of a felony here and legally carried a gun permit. Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rick Swiney said Whitmore had arrests in 1996 for theft, 2003 for deposit account fraud, two arrests in 2005 on a probation violation, traffic charges and a child support order, and finally in 2008 for driving on a suspended license. There was never a complaint of domestic violence.
The only reports between the two have come in the last two months after the couple split up and moved to separate residences. The split came after the end of basketball season, which was Grayden’s favorite sport, said Mandi Ball.
Melissa Ball, who was a licensed practical nurse at Peds Care P.C., called police on March 27 complaining of Whitmore stalking her at work. In an incident report filed by the Dalton Police Department, Ball told officers Whitmore had been harassing her since the breakup by driving around her residence and Peds Care and with harassing phone calls. In that report, she told the officer that Whitmore had been violent towards her in the past but she had never reported it. She told police she wanted documentation in case he ever showed back up at her work.
The next incident happened two days later when Ball called the Dalton police and said Whitmore had been following her and her son on I-75 and had tried to force her off of the interstate. When she quickly exited at Walnut Avenue, Ball said Whitmore came up the interchange driving in the wrong direction on the northbound on-ramp. She hid in the Chili’s parking lot until police arrived, and police never saw Whitmore in the black Chrysler Caliber that was parked behind Ball’s Ford sedan at the murder scene Thursday night.
“If you met him, you would never think that he was like that,” Mandi Ball said. “He was just your average guy, but he was totally different with my sister. I don’t understand it and I never will. He was just very controlling with her. He wouldn’t let her do anything as simple as dyeing her hair. He kept her beat down.”
Melissa Ball had been in contact with the district attorney’s domestic violence unit about taking out a temporary protective order against Whitmore. She planned to meet with them Wednesday, but postponed the meeting until Monday, Mandi Ball said.
“I tried to help, but I felt like the entire system and safety net let her down,” Mandi Ball said. “It is just very tragic and still seems unreal to me. I can’t imagine anyone doing that to a kid.”
Katora Printup, executive director of the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center, said the news of another murder tied to domestic violence is saddening. In February, Glenda Dyer died after Dalton police said she was stabbed repeatedly by her husband, David Dyer. He remains in the county jail without bond on murder and other charges.
“We are certainly saddened by the event,” Printup said. “Domestic violence continues to be a problem for Whitfield County residents in general. We are not to judge those in these kinds of relationships, but let them know there is help. A lot of time, they are afraid to report and we want them to know that all of our services are free and confidential. The community must try to take a stand to create violence-free homes and educating and letting them know they are not alone.”
Dalton Funeral Home is handling the funeral arrangements for Ball and for Grayden. Arrangements for Eric Whitmore are being held privately.