Friends remember victims of Brunswick massacre

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009 7:37 AM
Last updated 12:36 PM
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These are the stories of the eight people who were found slain in a mobile home park near Brunswick, Ga., on Saturday.

They were all family, or family friends, who died together in the biggest mass killing in Glynn County history. These are the stories of the eight people who were found slain in a mobile home park north of Brunswick, Ga., on Saturday. (A ninth victim, 3-year-old Byron Jimerson Jr., remains in critical condition in a Savannah hospital.)

RUSSELL TOLER SR.

Friends describe him as humble, hard-working

People who knew Russell "Rusty" Toler Sr., 44, said they were astonished he fell victim to such violence and confident he did nothing to bring it on himself or his family.

"I heard it, but thought it was just rumors," said Jimmy Ginn, a former neighbor of the Tolers.

In fact, said longtime friend and fishing companion Bobby Sumner, Toler always tried to find the good in people.

"Rusty tried to live by the old standard that if you don't have something good to say about someone, don't say anything at all," said Sumner, who runs an RV park in McIntosh County. "He loved his young'uns, and he would go to the ends of the Earth for them."

Sumner and others described Toler, who was living with four of his children, as a humble, friendly, hard-working man.

"Anything that came up to make a dollar, he'd jump at it," said Fred Rowe, a friend of the family for nearly two decades.

Joseph Iannicelli, owner of the New Hope Mobile Home Park and the adjoining Aero-Instant plant where Toler worked for more than 20 years, issued a statement describing him as "a very loyal employee."

The plant, which offers custom drying services to the mineral and chemical industries, is in temporary shutdown mode now, but Toler would definitely have been hired back when work picked up, Iannicelli said.

Called "Mr. Joe" by his employees, Iannicelli added a $10,000 reward Monday to the $25,000 offered by Glynn County police for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever is responsible for the killings.

Court records in McIntosh County show Toler was charged with simple battery against his former wife's husband on New Year's Eve 2004. The charges were dropped a few months later.

Witnesses subpoenaed to testify in the case included Toler's half-brother, Guy Heinze Sr., and Toler's daughter, Chrissy. Both also were victims of the weekend slayings.

But Sumner said Toler and his former wife and her husband generally got along as friends and had lived as neighbors before he moved to New Hope.

CHRISSY TOLER

She had several run-ins with law enforcement.

Chrissy Toler, 22, died after living a troubled life, littered with several run-ins with the law after she left the Glynn County school system in 2003 at age 16.

County schools Superintendent Howard Mann was interim principal of Needwood Middle School when Toler was a student there. Mann recalls her as a kid who was rough around the edges. She might not have instigated disturbances, he said, but she often was in the middle of them.

Toler got into more serious scrapes as she got older. She was sentenced to 10 years' probation and fined $1,500 after pleading guilty in June 2006 to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in an attack on a couple at a Brunswick motel.

Toler is the mother of the sole survivor of the weekend massacre. Her 3-year-old son is named after his father, Byron Jimerson, who is serving 20 years for the armed robbery, authorities said.

Toler took a plea bargain that required her to testify against Jimerson and Shem Paul, who received a 30-year sentence, records showed.

In 2005, Toler, Jimerson and two others were accused of robbing two men who said Toler and a second woman propositioned and promised to have sex with them, court records showed. Prosecutors later dismissed the charges when the victims could not be found to testify in the case, the records showed.

Toler was charged with misdemeanor simple battery after her mother told Glynn police she was attacked by her daughter in May 2006 during a domestic dispute. Court records list the case as inactive, and additional information about its disposition wasn't immediately available.

RUSSELL TOLER JR.

He worked hard and was slow to criticize.

Like father, like son.

Folks who knew him said Russell Toler Jr., 20, shared his father's humble demeanor, work ethic and love for fishing.

"He didn't care how dirty he got. That boy worked hard," said Fred Rowe, who often worked side by side with the man he called "Little Rusty" in roofing and construction jobs.

Bobby Sumner said he often fished with the father and son, and sometimes just with the son. He said he was a thin-framed young man, slow to criticize, who often kept to himself. Toler Jr. wasn't prone to fighting with his siblings or causing trouble outside the home, Sumner said.

"They were good people," he said. "It's such a tragedy this happened."

Mark Hill of Brunswick was stepfather to the Toler children and married to their mother for a time. He described them all as well-behaved and well-mannered. Hill said he hasn't had contact with the children in eight or nine years.

MICHAEL TOLER

A teacher remembers Michael as "wonderful."

David Flesch is serious when he tells you Michael Toler, 19, was "the most wonderful child and human being" he's met in 20 years as a special education teacher.

That's why his face lights up when asked about the boy he taught - and who he says taught him even more - at McIntosh County Academy near Darien, Ga., from 2003 to 2007.

But it's also what brings him to tears when reminded that Toler died Sunday from wounds suffered in the Brunswick trailer park home massacre that left a total of eight dead and one critically injured.

What seems so senseless to Flesch isn't only that Toler was a Down syndrome child, but that someone could possibly harm "the nicest human being ever."

"I was hoping they had the wrong child" when news first broke it was his former student who was among the victims, Flesch said.

What always impressed Flesch so much, he said, was that the teen overcame a speech impediment almost by sheer will and despite poverty at home displayed a huge work ethic - he had been training for a job with Goodwill Industries, although Flesch didn't believe he was working at the time.

Toler's family moved around a lot and worked several minimum-wage jobs - conditions that would make it hard for any student to do well at school.

After hearing of Toler's death, Flesch said he went through a cycle of anger and questioning about how this could happen. But that has already passed.

"I have no doubt Michael's sitting in God's lap right now," Flesch said. "I'm OK with that, now."

MICHELLE TOLER

"She had a big heart," said a family friend.

There was no official announcement Tuesday at Needwood Middle School. Classmates and teachers of Michelle Toler, 15, already knew the worst had happened to the eighth-grader.

Friends and classmates chose to remember her life - not how she died.

Bobby Sumner, a fishing companion of the Tolers, said Michelle loved to fish and spend time with her dad, who also died in the attacks.

"She had a big heart," Sumner said.

Reporters were barred from the middle school because Glynn County schools Superintendent Howard Mann said students and staff deserved privacy to grieve.

"It's such a horrific tragedy. It's going to take some time, not just for our school family but for the whole community to heal," Mann said.

Students continued to trickle in to talk with grief counselors, who have been at the school since Monday.

Michelle was popular with her classmates and teachers.

"Her classmates described her as a person who was always smiling, and said if they were down about anything, she would try to pick them up and raise their spirits," said Jim Weidhaas, a school system spokesman.

No memorial services have been planned at the school because "we're concentrating on maintaining a normal school atmosphere focused on learning," Weidhaas said.

But Michelle will not be forgotten.

"She is going to be missed," he said.

GUY HEINZE SR.

He was remembered as a generous friend.

At first, Jimmy Ginn was calm as he discussed the murder of his friend and one-time fellow truck driver Guy William Heinze Sr., 45, who died with seven others in a trailer park massacre Saturday in Brunswick.

But traces of anger emerged as slowly as the exhalations of the Marlboro Light cigarette he smoked Tuesday in a driveway on Church of God Road in Townsend, Ga.

"I hope they catch those guys," he said of the person or persons who committed the weekend homicides. "When they do, they can bring them out here and drop them off."

Townsend is a rural community a few miles west of Interstate 95 in McIntosh County where Ginn and Heinze used to drive a long-haul truck together, Ginn said. Two other victims, Rusty Toler Sr. and Jr., also once lived there.

"Everybody out here knows them," Ginn said.

What was known about Heinze, Ginn said, was that he kept his nose clean and worked hard.

"He got up early and went to bed early," Ginn said.

Not that Heinze didn't have his run-ins with authorities. In 1985, he received probation for forgery in St. Johns County. Records show he also got probation for forgery in Georgia. Speeding, illegal parking and improper child restraint charges were filed against him in Georgia between 1994 and 2004.

Ginn didn't recall any of that, but did remember Heinze's CB handle was "Shaky," because he had the jitters following an incident a few years back when a semi-truck tire he was working on exploded and injured him.

"It messed him up," Ginn said.

Bobby Sumner of McIntosh County said he and Heinze drove trucks together, and Heinze used to watch NASCAR with him. He described Heinze as a generous man who once brought him back a $70 model car from a NASCAR race.

"He had a really rough life," Sumner said.

BRENDA FALAGAN

She was in a wheelchair following a stroke.

Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, was Rusty Toler Sr.'s older sister and the wife of the late Glenn Falagan.

She and her husband lost their son, Andy, 7, and Glenn's son, Johnny, in a fire about 20 years ago, said Jeannie Asbell, her niece.

She and Glenn's sister, Joyce Stone, said both Glenn and Brenda had suffered debilitating strokes. After Glenn suffered a stroke, Brenda took care of him until she suffered one that left her unable to care for him, Stone said.

"She stuck by my brother until the day he died,'' Stone said. "She was just a good person.''

Brenda lived with another sister, Joann, for five years but when Joann died, Brenda had to leave, Stone said.

"She was in a wheelchair at times,'' as her late husband had been, Stone said.

Asbell believes Brenda Falagan was so dependent on someone taking care of her that she had little choice but to move in with her brother.

"She was my aunt. I loved her to death. She was a very nice lady,'' Asbell said.

Stone's voice was tinged with sorrow when she wondered why so many innocent people were killed.

"Why did they kill the children? Why did they kill Brenda?'' she said. "She didn't bother anybody."

JOSEPH WEST

Despite some problems, "He had a good heart."

Joseph L. West, 30, was Chrissy Toler's boyfriend, devoted to his family and always in a hurry, said his aunt, Joyce Herrington.

Herrington said she talked with him the day before he died and that he never let a week go by without talking with her.

He enjoyed spending time with Chrissy Toler and her young son, Byron.

"When you saw Joseph, Chrissy was in that truck and that little boy was in that truck,'' Herrington said.

She told about a running joke between them.

"He'd say, 'Auntie, you got any money?' and I'd say, 'If I do it's mine,'" she said.

He had some legal problems.

After pleading guilty to possession of cocaine, he was sentenced in September 2000 to five years' probation, $1,750 in fines and court costs and a year intensive probation. His probation was revoked after he tested positive for cocaine in October 2002 and failed to fulfill other conditions of his probation. There was no court record of any jail time.

Other scrapes with the law included forging and cashing a check for $345, theft by receiving stolen property for accepting $2,000 worth of stainless steel and illegal dumping and fighting. Sentences ranged from five days in jail to probation.

"None of us are perfect,'' his aunt said. "He had a good heart."

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reesiecup
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reesiecup 09/02/09 - 09:24 am
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Why is it necessary to report

Why is it necessary to report past criminal histories of these people? This is a horrible tragedy, it doesnt matter that they have had a brush with the law before. The Chronicle should be ashamed ! Very poor taste and disrespectful to the deceased!

tired of the crap
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tired of the crap 09/02/09 - 09:48 am
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I wonder if the the reporter

I wonder if the the reporter here has had any thing at all over his life time like a ticket ect ect ect. when something happens god forbids like this how would his family and or his friends feel or deal with this being in the paper for everyone to see? Thank you.

Delirious58
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Delirious58 09/02/09 - 10:00 am
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Now, you should know by now

Now, you should know by now that is what all newspapers and television reporters do.
They find the worst things in your life to publish .
Sells more papers for them.

corgimom
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corgimom 09/02/09 - 12:12 pm
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Chrissy and Joey stole drugs

Chrissy and Joey stole drugs or money. Payback.

reesiecup
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reesiecup 09/02/09 - 02:45 pm
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Corgimom you are pathetic, no

Corgimom you are pathetic, no one deserves the severe beating that these people endured. Regardless of any claims you make, no one deserves to be beaten like this. I guess you think the 3 year old got his payback too? Get a life and cease with the ignorant remarks.

Retired2
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Retired2 09/05/09 - 09:37 am
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Reesiecup - You are so right

Reesiecup - You are so right - NO ONE deserves to be murdered! However, they weren't beaten based on what I have read which includes this statement: "A county official close to the investigation told The News the day of the bodies were found that the victims had been shot". And then on the same day a gun was hidden in the car and the accused admitted putting it there.

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