GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Family, friends and the tight-knit community in the small Clay County town of Green Cove Springs are distraught after two women and one man were killed in a shooting Tuesday.
Murray Lancaster abducted his ex-girlfriend Tuesday and then shot and killed her, her father and his ex-wife before running from the scene and later taking his own life, Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler said.
"This is a very small, tight-knit community and even the suspects are people who have grown up here, went to school with all of us, and are well thought of, and it just compounds the tragedy so much more," Beseler said. "We know the families. We know the pain that this event caused."
According to Beseler, Murray kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Valorie Short, at gunpoint from a Green Cove Springs hair salon on Orange Avenue about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday and drove her to the Magnolia West.
Beseler said Murray ran into Short's father, Welland "Buddy" Short, there and then shot and killed them both.
He then drove to the Rosemary Hill Road landfill, where his ex-wife, Erica Green, worked, and shot and killed her, Beseler said.
After the three murders, Beseler said, Lancaster went to the school where his children attend, wanting to say goodbye, but he didn't get the chance, and then returned to his home where he took his own life.
"This is a tragic day in Green Cove Springs," Green Cove Springs Police Chief Robert Musco said.
Many gathered for a prayer service for the victims that was held Tuesday night at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs. Loved ones said they're devastated and they're just trying to figure out how to move forward.
Friends described Valorie Short as a fun woman with a great personality who will be greatly missed. They said she was well-known and beloved by many people in Green Cove Springs.
“She was beautiful inside and out,” said Short's roommate, Brittany Burnley. “She was a great friend to have. She was always there for people, you know. She loved her family.”
She had two young boys, ages 9 and 7, from a previous relationship. Their father is traveling to Green Cove Springs from out of state to be with the boys, News4Jax learned.
“She did a really good job with those boys and she don't have them no more,” Burnley said, crying. "She was a really good girl. She was a really great mom."
Short, who turned 30 last year, had dated Murray Lancaster for two years.
“They were in a relationship and then they broke up, then things got crazy. It was an ongoing court thing,” Burnley said. "Honestly, I kind of thought it in the back of my head, but I never wanted to believe that something like this would happen, especially to someone like her."
Tuesday morning, Lancaster kidnapped her at Keeping It Classy Hair and Nail Salon, where she had been working since January, salon owner Shelley Danforth told News4Jax.
She was the "sweetest, most kind woman, the best mother. When she wasn't at work, she was with her boys," Danforth said.
Danforth issued the following statement Tuesday night on behalf of the salon:
"We here at Keeping it Classy Salon are devistated. Valorie Short was not only our coworker, but our true friend. We where lucky to have been graced with her presence and beautiful always smiling face. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. I was lucky enough to call her my bestie. I loved her like a sister. We will be holding a vigil tomorrow at 6:00 PM for Valorie Short, Buddy Short and Erica Green here at the salon. All are welcome to come and remember these beautiful people whom will be dearly missed."
According to Danforth, Lancaster had been calling Short leading up to the shooting, but she hadn't been answering him because of a no-contact order issued.
Danforth said there were never any warning signs Short talked about until March, when Lancaster was arrested on charges of battery of Short and resisting arrest without violence.
After the battery charge was filed, Short got a restraining order against Lancaster, deputies said.
Lancaster was released from jail and had a hearing on the battery charge scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Clay County Courthouse.
"I don't even know how to describe what I'm feeling right now," Burnley said. "I'm not sure what's next for everyone in this situation."
James Thigpen, who works at a business near the hair salon, said the abduction and news of the deadly shooting left workers in the area shaken.
"By the time we heard about it and came out, he was already gone," James Thigpen said. "There's nothing they could do about it. He was going to take her, one way or another."
Thigpen described Short as a pleasant woman, who was always smiling.
“She was just a really down-to-earth person," he said. "She was just really nice.”
Singing and prayers were part of the prayer service Tuesday night that remembered Short and the other two victims.
Short's cousin Susan Brooker said it's hard to describe how she's feeling after losing someone she describes as an incredible person.
"You can't cope. There's no words to express how you feel. Especially for my Aunt Kate and Holly. It's heartbreaking," Brooker said. "She was a beautiful soul. She loved her children. She loved to race, fish, be with her family. She was a great hairdresser, couldn't ask for a better person. Really, you couldn't ask for a better person."
Welland "Buddy" Short
After Murray Lancaster abducted Valorie Short at the salon, investigators said, he drove her in his truck to a construction site where her father Buddy Short was working, near Magnolia West, at County Road 315 and Medinah Lane.
Lancaster then shot and killed them both, investigators said.
News4Jax learned Buddy Short was a longtime starter at Green Cove Dragway.
"Our hearts are broken. We are all so shocked and devastated. I can't write any words right now. Our Green Cove Dragway Family -- well, there are no words. Green Cove Dragway will be dark this weekend. There will be no events. Prayers and faith is what we need to hold on to," Green Cove Dragway posted on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with funeral expenses for Buddy and Valorie Short.
Investigators said Murray Lancaster also shot and killed his ex-wife Erica Green Tuesday at the Rosemary Hill Road landfill where she worked.
Green, 31, and Lancaster married in September 2005. They had two children, a boy and a girl, who appear to be under the age of 10.
The two had been divorced for about two years and Green was engaged to be married again.
Courtney Tode, Green and Buddy Short's cousin, spoke with News4Jax at the vigil about how she and her family will move forward without them in their lives.
"She was a great, great woman and a great mother to two gorgeous kids," Tode said. "My Aunt Theresa -- her mom, Erica's mom -- she's heartbroken. She lost a daughter and today I lost a great cousin."
Tode said she knew Lancaster when he was still married to Green.
"He was quiet at first. Then he got used to us and hung out with us. But when they got divorced two years ago, he just ain't been himself. He's different," Tode said.
Tode said she saw Lancaster at an event last weekend, where he told her he was doing well. But she said something was off. Even though she said she saw a change in his behavior, she never could have imagined him doing something like this.
"I honestly don't know why Murray did it," Tode said. "But God has gained three more angels today."
News4Jax has not found any court documents citing violence between Lancaster and Green.
Lancaster was married twice before he married Erica Green, each time for less than one year, News4Jax has learned.