Missouri murder spree shatters tiny community's comfort zone

Jason Sickles
Police tape surrounds one of several crime scenes near Tyrone, Mo., on Friday. Authorities said a gunman killed seven people at four different homes. (Jeff McNiell/Houston Herald)

A rural Missouri county that had zero homicides last year spent Friday reeling after seven people were murdered by a man who police said went on a house-to-house shooting rampage in the middle of the night.

Texas County Sheriff James Sigman said there were no signs of forced entry at the four countryside homes where the murders occurred. Located about 50 miles north of the Arkansas border, sparsely populated Texas County is made up of tightly knit farming communities.

“We feel safe around here most of the time,” Sigman told reporters Friday afternoon. “Start locking your doors. The world’s changing.”

Suspected shooter Joseph J. Aldridge committed suicide after the rampage that left seven of his neighbors dead and one wounded, officials said. (Police photo)

The first sign of trouble came around 10 p.m. Thursday when a 15-year-old girl in the unincorporated community of Tyrone ran to a neighbor’s house, crying that her parents had been shot. According to Reuters, the teen arrived in her nightgown, having scampered barefoot through a snowy wooded area to get help.

Deputies responded to her home and found her parents, Garold and Julie Aldridge, aged 52 and 47 respectively, dead.

A few miles away, Garold's brother Harold, 50, and his wife, Janell, 48, were discovered shot to death in their bedroom as well.

That’s when officers began checking every house in the tiny community, urging Tyrone’s nearly 50 residents to stay put and lock their homes.

Sigman, who commands a staff of eight officers, kept thinking to himself, “I hope it ends.”

But the tragedy continued to unfold less than 3 miles away. At the home of longtime residents Darrell and Martha Shriver, 68-year-old Darrell was dead from gunshot wounds. Martha survived her wounds and was able to help police identify the gunman before being taken to a hospital in Springfield, Mo.

On Friday, relatives and friends confirmed the names to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Yahoo News. Authorities then released the names of victims Saturday.

Martha Shriver, after being shot, also phoned a relative in the community, urgently asking that he go check on her son and his family. Tyrone resident John Shriver told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he discovered Carey Shriver, 46, and Valirea Shriver, 44, dead on their bedroom floor. He said he found their son, an eighth grader, hiding in another bedroom.

“What’s so devastating is that everybody is friends with everybody,” said Mary Wilkins, whose daughters attend school with the Shrivers’ son in Houston, the county seat. “They were amazing … pillars of our communities.”

By 5 a.m. the suspect Martha Shriver told police to seek was located in the next county. Joseph Jesse Aldridge, cousin of Garold and Harold, was found dead at the wheel of a GMC truck in the middle of the road. Sigman said it appears Aldridge took his own life with the same .45-caliber handgun used in the killings.

Joseph Aldridge, 36, lived in Tyrone with his 74-year-old mother, Alice. Deputies discovered her dead on her couch during the investigation, but believe she was in poor health and may have died more than 24 hours prior to the murders.

One county official speculated to reporters that Aldridge’s rampage might have been sparked by his mother’s death, but Sigman said no motive is known.

“We’re not going to have all the answers today,” he said.

According to public records, Aldridge served 20 months in federal prison for having a .22-caliber pistol when he was arrested in 2007 for felony marijuana possession. He was released in 2010, but a federal judge tacked on six months of house arrest in 2011 at the request of Aldridge’s probation officer. The judge also ordered him to participate in a remote alcohol testing program.

Sigman said Aldridge was known to local officers, but described any criminal history of his as being minor.

Sheriff James Sigman: “We feel safe around here most of the time.” (Reuters/Kate Munsch)

“Everybody is asking why,” said Darrell Aldrich, who was friends with Carey Shriver. “Why did this happen? They were good people.”

Because of his last name, Aldrich said he spent part of his day quelling rumors.

“My name sounds the same, but it’s different,” he told Yahoo News. “I’ve been hearing it all day long from people Facebooking and doing this and that.”

Even in a small town, it was social media that first signaled to Wilkins that something was amiss. She was on her way to milk cows at 4 a.m. when the alerts came flying in.

“I saw all these notifications, and I was just absolutely devastated,” Wilkins said. “Facebook is either the devil or it’s a good source of communication. It’s just unreal what happened.”

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).