Local News

After murder-suicide, bonds of family remain strong along Moncure Flatwood Road

Posted March 17, 2020 4:43 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2020 5:25 p.m. EDT

— For a Chatham County family grappling with unimaginable grief, the coronavirus is only an afterthought. They're preparing for the funerals of seven people after a murder-suicide on Sunday night.

Linda Childress lost a daughter, her mother and her sister. On Tuesday, at her home along Moncure Flatwood Road, she spoke about the bonds that kept her family rooted in that community.

In a small, brick house, Childress' mother, Helen Mason, a 93-year-old widow, lived and died. A farmer's wife, Mason raised two daughters in this house.

"She was the most independent woman you'd ever meet in your life," Childress said. "Loved being outside."

Childress got married inside that small, brick house. She and her husband built a house right across the road, as did her sister, Jeanie Ray and her husband, Larry.

"We didn't want to go anywhere else," she said.

When Childress' own children were grown, they too kept close to the homeplace.

Her daughter, Nicole, worked down here at the Community Store when she was 15. That's when she met Paul Sanderford. "And that was it," Childress said. She would become Nicole Sanderford.

The couple moved in next door to Mason, Nicole's grandmother.

But on Sunday afternoon, Childress's brother-in-law, 66-year-old Larry Ray, erupted in violence.

Relatives say he shot and killed his wife, Jeanie, then went to that small, brick house across the road.

Mason had two visitors at her kitchen table: her nephew Ellis Mansfield and his wife, Lisa, who had come to bring her a meal.

All three were murdered.

And then, relatives say, Ray went to the Sanderford home, killing Paul and Nicole while their 16-year-old son locked himself in his bedroom and called 911.

Finally, they said, Ray returned to his home and shot himself.

Family members say they don't know what sparked this violence, but said Ray had a hot temper.

Linda Childress said that her two surviving children and her grandchildren keep her strong in the face of that loss.

"I've got to stay strong for them," she said. "They're my life."

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