Originally created 09/18/96

Shooting suspect led a troubled life People who knew him said accused killer of three was swamped with problems

Friends and neighbors of David Mark Hill, stunned by the explosion of violence Monday at a social services office, can point back to a buildup of misfortune, paranoia and economic stress that allegedly drove the North Augusta man to shoot three people.

Those who know him say he is a quiet, often aloof man who at one time worked highly technical jobs at chemical plants but lately had been unemployed for long stretches, drifting from job to job.

He was extremely concerned about his family, and they seldom ventured outside the house. And for the past year he suffered a depression that allegedly was capped by the shooting of three workers at the Department of Social Services.

A church acquaintance says Mr. Hill's downward spiral began when his then 3-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was left a quadriplegic from a serious car accident. It included three suicide attempts this year and then the Department of Social Services' decision to put his children in foster care.

"This accident played the major role in starting this stuff," said an official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in North Augusta, where Mr. Hill's wife, Jacqueline, was a member. The church official asked not to be identified.

A few days before the shooting, Mr. Hill had quit his job as a car salesman at Bob Bennett Lincoln-Mercury in Augusta after working there a couple of days, the church official said.

Robert Cody, a sales manager at the car dealership, refused to comment.

The church official said the job was a positive step for Mr. Hill after a lengthy period of unemployment and shifting from job to job.

But the decision by DSS to take the children last week sent Mr. Hill reeling back into depression, said the church official.

"When they came and took the children Thursday, that's when I spoke with him; and, yes, he was distressed," the official said. "He didn't know what to do. It seems like just in the past year with these people, every time they turned around something was happening to them. It just mounted up on them."

The troubles for the family stretch back even farther, back to the Amoco chemical plant where Jackie Mills and David Hill met after he was hired in August 1990. The two started dating and married on May 24, 1991.

Mrs. Hill alleged in a federal lawsuit in 1992 that she was the ongoing subject of sexual harassment on the job, a charge that Amoco denied in the lawsuit. Mr. Hill also joined in the lawsuit, alleging that because of his wife's complaints, he was denied a raise and later severance pay when he resigned later that year.

The lawsuit was contested for three years before a confidential settlement was reached in March 1995.

But by that time, everything had changed, said Augusta attorney Jack Batson, one of the lawyers who handled the case.

"They were both working at Amoco and were making good money," when the lawsuit began, he said. "Things went downhill from there."

According to attorney Pat Nelson of Athens, who also represented the Hills in the case, the family had to live with Mr. Hill's parents while their legal battle continued.

Connie Gnann, who bought the house on Bridle Path Drive next door to Mr. Hill's parents after Mr. Hill lost it in a foreclosure, said she believes the Hills are good people, a very close-knit family. And she admired his love of animals, recalling how he cried when he told her about the death of his favorite Rottweiler last year.

But there were odd things, too. He never smiled and was often aloof when she greeted him, she said.

"You're talking to him and he's looking right through you," she said.

Sometimes in the middle of a conversation, he would turn and walk off, she said. And although he loved his Rottweilers, he wanted them to be fierce attack dogs, she added.

"David was paranoid," she said.

In fact, the first thing the Hills did when they moved into the home at 2108 Caretta Ave. a little over a year ago was to put up a big chain link fence around the house, neighbor Carl Glover said.

"I told him in 36 years here I've never had a break-in," Mr. Glover said, as he looked over the fence at a yard scattered with toys.

At first the Hills seemed to be doing well. There were new cars in the driveway, though Mr. Hill didn't have a job. He told Mr. Glover he was on pain medication for his injured back.

Then came the accident to Rebecca, where Mrs. Hill told police she took her eyes off the road to talk to her daughter and didn't see the car stopped in front of her, smashing into it from behind.

The church helped pay the couple's bills and even helped Mr. Hill get private counseling to help him cope with the stress of caring for a child who needed a ventilator to breathe and round-the-clock care.

The strain might have been behind three suicide attempts since February, and a fourth attempt Tuesday. His wife had taken out a restraining order after a suicide attempt July 21, when Mr. Hill shut himself in a bedroom closet and put a shotgun under his chin.

"David stated, I have a gun to my head and will not shoot anyone and do not intend to harm anyone," a police report states.

After deputies with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office talked him out of the suicide attempt, Mr. Hill was admitted to the Aurora Center in Aiken, an in-patient treatment center for drug abuse and depression, according to the report.

And it appeared to Mr. Glover that the family's money, which Mr. Hill told him came from a settlement from a workplace accident, was dwindling.

The new cars had slowly been traded down to a single old car.

On Sept. 10, Mrs. Hill ran that car into a culvert near the family's home and a North Augusta police officer charged her with driving under the influence and child endangerment because two of her children were in the car. A few days later, the state stepped in and took the children.


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