GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - A day after a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, her father and his ex-wife before running from the scene and later taking his own life, chilling details have emerged in the rampage that left the small town of Green Cove Springs shaken.
News4Jax has learned that the 911 dispatcher taking calls reporting the deadly shootings knew all of the victims involved. Green Cove Springs police praised her efforts in the midst of the tragedy.
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Before the violence began about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, the shooter went to his children's elementary school to try to see them. Police don't know which teacher stopped him or why, but they complimented the school for a job well done for every child in the building.
Murray Lancaster's violent rampage began at the Keeping it Classy salon on Orange Avenue when he kidnapped his ex-girlfriend, Valorie Short, at gunpoint and drove her to Magnolia West.
Short had changed her phone number the day prior after trying to escape Lancaster for more than six weeks following a violent altercation that ended in Lancaster's arrest on a battery charge, the I-TEAM learned.
Short chose not to call police Tuesday morning after Lancaster came to her home and tried to block her in as she was leaving for work at the salon.
Short had told friends that despite a no-contact order, Lancaster kept calling her even from unknown numbers and texted her at all hours of the night. Police said she never called to report Lancaster for violating the no-contact agreement.
Haunting 911 calls, abduction video released
Video from a a law office near the salon shows what appears to be Lancaster leaving the salon with Short in a silver truck.
He's first seen pulling up in the truck at the salon, which is across the street from the Clay County Courthouse.
As he gets out of the truck, he reaches back in and appears to put something in his pocket. He then walks around the truck and into the salon.
He later walks out with Short.
No gun can be seen, but witnesses told News4Jax that Lancaster pulled a gun on Short before forcing her to get into the truck.
Shelley Danforth, who worked with Short at the salon, said Lancaster came to the salon, walked over to Short and told her to come with him, but she refused. He said he had a gun in his pocket, so she agreed to walk outside with him, Danforth said.
They started arguing at the door, and Danforth walked over and told them they couldn't fight there.
Danforth said that's when Lancaster pulled out a gun and pointed it at her, grabbed Short and said, "We're going to go find your daddy and settle this."
Short's uncle called 911 to report the abduction.
“This is a hostage situation,” he told the dispatcher. “Murray Lancaster is holding my niece hostage at the maintenance gate of Magnolia Point.”
After driving to Magnolia West, Lancaster found Short's father, Welland "Buddy" Short, at a construction site and then shot and killed him and his daughter. Officers responding to 911 calls about the double shooting at County Road 315 and Medinah Lane found Buddy Short and Valorie Short dead in the street.
A 911 caller reported the tragic double murder.
Caller: He probably shot this guy -- white male -- he probably shot this guy six or seven times. I live like right there. I looked over the fence and saw him shooting him. He was running around the truck.
Dispatcher: Do you see the truck now?
Caller: The guy took off.
Dispatcher: Which way did he head?
Caller: He headed towards Magnolia Point. But I don't know if he turned around or not because I ran in and grabbed my son because I didn't want any bullets to go flying ... He saw me looking at him.
While responding to that call and several others reporting the double shooting, police got another call about a shooting at the Rosemary Hill Road landfill.
Dispatcher: Ma'am is the person that shot them still there?
Caller: No, they took off in the truck! They took off in a 4 x 4 silver truck.
Dispatcher: Ma'am listen to me, listen to me. I'm getting rescue there to help the woman that has been shot. Can you tell me anything about her? How old she is, where she was shot at.
Caller: I don't know. I didn't look at her. She is laying on the ground on her side. I heard the shots, and I turned around, and she was on the ground. Trying to put my garbage in the trash. Oh my God! She's not moving.
Lancaster had driven to the landfill to find his ex-wife, Erica Green Lancaster, who worked there. He shot and killed her and then fled the scene in the truck, which was later found outside the Lancaster family home on Idlewild Avenue (State Road 16). A .223-caliber rifle was found in the truck, Sheriff Rick Beseler said.
Clay County SWAT teams surrounded a nearby camper on the property and later were able to enter the camper and found Lancaster dead, Beseler said.
The bodies of Lancaster and the three victims were autopsied Wednesday by the medical examiner. The victims were each shot multiple times.
Police said they are investigating if Lancaster was suffering from mental illness. Several witnesses, friends and family have reported that he was, and that he was “off his medicine” and drinking.
A toxicology report will be part of Lancaster's autopsy.
Town rocked by tragedy
Green Cove Springs police worked Wednesday to help the community get back to normal after the tragedy, particularly the students at the four schools that remained on lockdown most of the day Tuesday as officers and deputies from the Clay County Sheriff's Office hunted for Lancaster.
Lancaster is a nephew of former Clay County Sheriff Scott Lancaster.
"It's like a day of infamy here in this town -- a day that will always be remembered in this town, that will never ever be forgotten," said Reno Wolfe, who knew Valorie Short. "The whole thing will never be forgotten. It is going to be stuck in everybody's mind forever."
An impromptu memorial of flowers has started to build at Valorie Short's station at the salon.
The salon hosted a vigil for all three victims at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The public was invited to attend.
A vigil was also planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church on Walnut Street.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Green's family with funeral and other expenses.
Officers were stationed at the town's schools Wednesday, and counselors were on site to help the students deal with the tragedy, Green Cove Springs Police Department spokeswoman Kimberly Robinson said.
“This affects everyone. It's an unfortunate event. It has really rocked Green Cove Springs,” Robinson said. “Our hearts go out to everyone involved. The kids, it's their friends. We're coming up on Mother's Day. This is very tragic, and it does affect everyone: faculty, students, community members.”
Erica Green and Valorie Short each had two children. The four kids involved were kept with their classmates all day Tuesday and were released to their families with everyone else.
The Clay County School District released a statement Wednesday about the crisis response team on site at Charles E. Bennett Elementary School, where Lancaster went Tuesday morning to see his children before the rampage began:
A crisis response team of grief counselors, school psychologists, and social workers will be available at Charles E. Bennett today for students and staff as they come to terms with yesterday’s tragedies. These professionals will continue to support CEB as needed in the days to come, and they are also available to respond as needed at other schools that were affected.
Our experts know that oftentimes children take solace in returning to a familiar routine. As we move forward, the crisis response team will work closely with school leaders to balance that goal with a number of activities designed to help students process their emotions surrounding this tragedy in constructive and healthy ways.
Robinson said officers tried to distract students Wednesday by focusing on national Bike to School Day, emphasizing bike safety.
She praised the efforts of teachers, administration and the Clay County School District on Tuesday to keep students calm during the lockdowns.
“I'm sure they were very distraught over it, but they did an outstanding job keeping the children safe and calm,” Robinson said. “They made sure they were fed, (and) they were occupied, just so the kids didn't get fearful."
Grief counselors will be on hand at the schools again Thursday.
I-TEAM: Co-worker says trouble began with divorce
Brian Dasher, who worked with Murray Lancaster for years in Palatka at Georgia-Pacific and considered him a friend, said he's still shocked by Tuesday's violence.
“Basically, it started whenever he divorced Erica (in 2014),” Dasher said. “He was moping around, getting fidgety with everyone in conversation.”
Dasher said Lancaster's arrest in March was out of character for the man he knew, and it was just the beginning of the trouble.
“(He was) just making bad choices at work, not coming to work. Everybody is having marital problems and relationship problems. Some don't come to work sometimes,” Dasher said. “(It's) hard to focus on jobs that we have and focus on outside life.”
Dasher said he tried to reach out to Lancaster via text, and the last he heard from him was the day he was fired last week.
He said he thinks that was the final straw.
Dasher said he can't understand how the guy he knew could leave so much wreckage behind, shattering lives and families forever.
“He loved his kids. (They're) all he could talk about,” Dasher said. “(I) didn't think he would, but you never know a person.”
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