WALTHOURVILLE, Ga. - Hours after discovering her sister and brother-in-law dead inside a trailer they all shared, Rachel McMahon was packing up and preparing to drive 1,000 miles home to Texas on Tuesday.
On Monday night, Ms. McMahon and her boyfriend, Don Graham, walked up to the Glenbrook Village home in Walthourville where they'd been staying. The door was unlocked; Mr. Graham pushed but felt something blocking it. He thought maybe someone had fallen asleep in front of it.
Inside, a nightmare: the bodies of Ms. McMahon's sister, Lucienne Hurst, and her husband of four months, Staff Sgt. Bertran Hurst, both with gunshot wounds to the head.
Authorities think Staff Sgt. Hurst, a 32-year-old soldier at Fort Stewart, killed his wife, then shot himself. Three months pregnant, she'd told him she wanted a divorce.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. McMahon, 19, fought back tears as she talked about her older sister. Lucienne Crystal Hurst - "Lu" to her family - was 20. She had been living in the Liberty County area for a little more than a year. She liked playing Dungeons & Dragons, singing, and surfing the Internet.
Her sister had met someone from Pennsylvania on the Internet and planned to move back to Texas with him, Ms. McMahon said. She had told her husband while he was training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., that she wanted out of the marriage, Ms. McMahon said.
He came back Saturday to the mobile home he was renting. He wanted to work things out. They played Dungeons & Dragons and argued some, Ms. McMahon said.
When Staff Sgt. Hurst left the house around 2 p.m. Monday, the couple had agreed he would be allowed to see his future child, Ms. McMahon said. He told the sisters he was going to file for divorce, but no papers were filed in the Liberty County Courthouse, where he'd gotten married in a civil ceremony at noon Feb. 26.
It was Lucienne's second marriage within a year. She married last May and was divorced by August, court records show.
Ms. McMahon didn't have any illusions about her sister's marriage to Staff Sgt. Hurst.
"It was a marriage of convenience," Ms. McMahon said, partly so he could draw additional money from the Army. Staff Sgt. Hurst was part of the 549th Military Police Company.
He was a well-decorated soldier who in 12 years had served in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Somalia and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A gulf war veteran, he had served four tours in Southwest Asia. Among his awards were three Army commendation medals, a heroism service medal and a Kuwait Liberation medal.
"I always thought of him as being a nice guy," Ms. McMahon said.
Added Mr. Graham, "He surely didn't come across as being violent."
Walthourville, a southwestern Liberty County town of about 4,000 residents, has had its share of violent crime in recent years. Last November, police say, a man shot his wife and another man at a Walthourville duplex. On the same street three years ago, six people were shot to death in a drug-related crime.
Neighbors say Glenbrook Village is a quiet place where many of the residents are military personnel. They tried to grapple with violence so close to home Tuesday, but said they still feel safe.
"The matter was domestic, but it was sad it happened," said Kimethia Smith.
She didn't hear anything, but authorities said a neighbor heard the couple arguing Sunday night. A neighbor also told detectives he heard two pops about 5:30 p.m. Monday, an hour after Ms. McMahon and Mr. Graham had left.
Keith Moran, chief deputy with the Liberty County Sheriff's Department, said that's when they think Staff Sgt. Hurst shot his wife with a 9 mm Lorcin handgun. She had been talking on the phone with her mother when the phone went dead. Authorities think he cut the phone line. They found a pair of scissors next to his body, along with the gun.
Ms. McMahon and Mr. Graham returned about 9:30 p.m., finding the bodies on the living room floor and the phone dead. Ms. McMahon dialed 911 with her cell phone.
On Tuesday afternoon, even as GBI investigators were taking final measurements inside the house, Ms. McMahon and Mr. Graham were loading clothes, appliances and mementos into a blue Buick Skylark, readying for a long drive.
Mr. Graham and Ms. McMahon had planned to get married this week in Texas but say they'll probably wait until after the funeral, which hasn't been scheduled yet.
Before she left, Ms. McMahon searched the car for photos of her sister.
She held the pink stuffed bunny that her sister slept with. The remnants of their life in Walthourville - a stereo and cordless phone, ceramic mugs, a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats and a Braveheart video - filled the car. Dried roses, symbols of a happier time, sat on the front seat.
"I didn't have any idea anything like this would happen," Ms. McMahon said.