TYRONE, Mo. >> A man who authorities say may have been unhinged by the death of his ailing mother killed seven people and then took his own life in a house-to-house shooting rampage that wiped out a swath of this tiny town in the Missouri Ozarks.
Joseph Jesse Aldridge, 36, carried out the killings with a .45-caliber handgun Thursday night or early Friday at four homes in Tyrone, the no-stoplight community of about 50 people where he lived with his mother, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.
Aldridge was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound before dawn in a running pickup truck on the middle of a highway 15 or 20 miles away.
The patrol said four of the dead — two couples — were cousins of Aldridge’s, ranging in age from 47 to 52. The names of the rest of the dead — and an eighth victim who was wounded but expected to survive — were being withheld until relatives could be notified.
All the victims were adults and were gunned down within a few miles of one another.
Authorities said the motive was unclear and no suicide note was found. But as the investigation unfolded, they found Aldridge’s 74-year-old mother dead, apparently of natural causes, on a couch at her home, officials said.
She had been under a doctor’s care and appeared to have been dead at least 24 hours, Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Whittaker speculated that the son “came home and found her deceased and then for whatever reason went on a rampage and started killing people.”
Around town, Aldridge was described as a recluse, and it was unclear what, if anything, he did for a living.
The killings traumatized Tryone, a town about 40 miles from the Arkansas line where many residents are related to one another, Sheriff James Sigman said. He said the last homicide in the county was a year and a half ago.
“Start locking your doors,” the sheriff said. “The world’s changing. You’ve got to be safe.”
The sheriff’s office learned of the attack when it got a call about 10:15 p.m. Thursday from a young woman who said she had fled to a neighbor’s home after hearing gunshots in her house.
The neighbor, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the teenage girl was barefoot and clad only in a nightgown when she came running across a snow-covered field full of thickets that left her legs cut up.
“She was crying so hard, but I finally got out of her ‘My mom and dad have been shot,'” the neighbor said.
When officers arrived at the girl’s home, they found two people dead. Authorities later found five more people dead and one wounded in three other homes. The wounded person was hospitalized in undisclosed condition.
Sheriff’s officers did a house-by-house sweep to make sure there were no more bodies.
The patrol identified some of the dead as Garold Dee Aldridge, 52; his 47-year-old wife, Julie Ann Aldridge; Harold Wayne Aldridge, 50; and that man’s wife, 48-year-old Janell Arlisa Aldridge.
Tyrone is in largely rural Texas County, where the scenic rivers and woods draw canoeists, trout fishermen and deer hunters. The area has seen an exodus of shoe and garment factories over the decades, along with a drop in dairy and poultry farms, County Clerk Don Troutman said.
Set along a narrow, two-lane highway in a remote, hilly stretch, Tyrone consists of a pocket of mobile homes and other small houses but little else, with no restaurants or shops. A couple of general stores are long gone, and the one-room schoolhouse has been converted into a community building, Troutman said.
“There’s not even a stop sign there,” said Troutman, who has been clerk for 36 years. He said of the bloodshed: “We’ve never had anything of this magnitude before. It’s a shock.”
Associated Press writers Margaret Stafford, Jim Suhr and Heather Hollingsworth contributed to this report from Kansas City, Missouri.