BELLVILLE, Texas – A Bellville man was being questioned Monday in the shooting deaths of five family members.
The bodies were discovered around 2 p.m. Sunday in the 8400 block of FM 1456.
Sgt. Paul Faircloth of the Austin County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as 69-year-old George T. Washington, 54-year-old Debra Washington, 25-year-old Kiana Shree Thearse, toddler Khalilah Masse-Chambers and 19-year-old Cedric Thomas.
The bodies of the Washingtons, Thearse and Masse-Chambers were found inside the home. Thomas’ body was found out back in a wooded area, Faircloth said.
Investigators said Thearse was three months pregnant at the time of her death.
Sources at the scene told 11 News the victims were the father, mother, sister, niece and brother of the suspect.
Officials have not identified the suspect aside from saying he’s a 21-year-old male who lived in the home with the victims, but a relative confirmed that both the suspect and Thearse were Debra Washington’s children.
The suspect was arrested around 3 a.m. Sunday after investigators said he tried to break into a nearby car and home. He was held at gunpoint by a neighbor until authorities arrived, Faircloth said.
He’s since been charged with burglary and attempted burglary. Prosecutors are evaluating the case, and the suspect could be charged with capital murder.
Authorities have yet to determine how many times each victim was shot. The bodies were sent to the Travis County Medical Examiner for autopsies.
"It’s a devastating loss. Everyone knows everybody here and it reaches through to the hearts of the community," Faircloth said.
Joanna Gutierrez, Debra Washington’s cousin, described the Washingtons as a friendly couple who had lived in the house about two years since moving from Houston.
"It’s just so devastating," Gutierrez said. "She doesn’t know a stranger. She’s kind to everybody. He was the same way."
The family’s single-story home sits on a big lot off a two-lane road and was bordered by a pasture and thick woods.
Archie Seals, the Washingtons’ landlord who lives about a half-mile away, said he didn’t know the couple all that well but liked them.
"They were well-respected," said Seals, who recalled George Washington offering friendly waves as worked in his large yard. "He had a smile on his face all the time. He and his wife were real nice."
Several sheriff’s department and Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles were parked in front of the home early Monday.
Bellville is a town of about 4,000 people located 55 miles northwest of Houston. The area drew attention in August with the shooting death of a physician at his ranch. Two suspects were arrested days later and charged with killing Dr. Jorge Mario Gonzalez of Houston.
Seals, who has lived in Bellville about 35 years, said he’s shaken but not afraid.
"In the big cities, things happen, but even in small cities, things happen," he said. "But I most definitely feel safe here. I’m not going anywhere."