GREENWOOD, S.C. — Facing problems with the law and in his personal life, 27-year-old Bryan Sweatt called a police dispatcher to vent. When she asked him what was wrong, he replied he was “stressed out” and about to kill him self.
With a woman’s voice crying in the background, the dispatcher asked if he had a gun. His reply: “a 44.” Then the phone line went dead.
The chilling call was the first clue that something had gone terribly wrong inside a one-story rural home in this tight-knit community of 23,000 people where six people, including Sweatt, were found shot to death.
Police say Sweatt broke into his girlfriend’s parents’ house Tuesday and waited for them and the girlfriend to come home. When they did, Sweatt fatally shot her, her parents and two children living there and himself, said Greenwood County Sheriff Tony Davis said.
“Once you see a horrific scene like this it never leaves you. It’s with you day in and day out,” he said.
The victims were identified as Richard Fields, 51; his wife, Melissa Fields, 49; their daughter Chandra Fields, 26; and two of the couple’s grandchildren who lived with them: William Robinson, 9; and Tariq Robinson, 11.
Sweatt w as in the middle of a custody fight with Chandra Fields over their 7 -month-old daughter, who was not among those killed. He also was facing a burglary charge that could have put him behind bars for years.
Richard Fields had warned him to stay away from his house and the dirt track Sweatt had built in the backyard for his all-terrain vehicles.
Davis didn’t specify a motive for the shootings, but said it appears they stemmed from a “domestic violence situation.”
He said Sweatt felt that Chandra Fields wasn’t allowing him to see their infant child often enough.
It’s unclear how many - if any - victims had been shot before he made the call at 5:54 p.m. Tuesday from the home. A police report said a dispatcher heard a woman in the background say: “Do not point that at me” before the call was disconnected.
Sweatt allowed four children to escape - his 7-month-old daughter, the infant’s cousin and two neighborhood children who came to the door after school to play with the Fields’ grandchildren.
No one knows why Swe att let them live and shot the others, Davis said.
“I cannot tell you at this point that I have all the answers for you,” he said.
While they’re still searching for clues, one thing is clear: Sweatt was facing serious problems.
Sweatt had a lengthy arrest record that dates back nearly a decade, according to state police records. Most of his charges were related to property crimes, such as burglary or forgery, although he was arrested once on aggravated assault charges.
Sweatt told relatives that he missed a court hearing in the burglary case the day of the slayings, Davis said. But that information was false, and Sweatt wasn’t set to appear in court again until the case went to trial at a future date, Davis said.
On July 6, 2012, a woman filed a complaint, saying she wanted to have Sweatt checked out because he was threatening suicide, according to a Greenwood County sheriff’s office report. She also said she was afraid of him. No charges were f iled.
Neighbors said that a few months ago, Richard Fields sta rted allowing Sweatt to store his recreational vehicles on his property on a rural stretch of road south of Greenwood in northwestern South Carolina.
Neighbor Jeff Hicks said he didn’t mind initially, but things quickly changed. Strangers began showing up and racing the four-wheelers long into the night, he said. Fields had complained about the noise and said he was going to ask Sweatt to stop coming around.
“He just couldn’t take it anymore. He was just fed up,” Hicks said.
Hicks said he had frequently talked with his quiet, friendly neighbor about hog hunting and other outdoor activities.
“It’s a shame. It just tears you up,” said Hicks, who last saw Fields on Tuesday morning. “I waved to him, and now I’ll never see him again. That’s how short life is.”
Sheriff Davis said Fields also believed Sweatt had stolen property from him and told him “not to come back.”
Officers went to the home after receiving the 911 call from Sweatt. Davis said while police were on their way, a neighbor called 911 saying four children from that address had arrived at her house and told her a shot had been fired.
On the tape released Wednesday, the neighbor was frantic.
“I just got four kids at my door and they said somebody just killed their momma,” the woman told the dispatcher.
When the dispatcher asked what happened, one of the children replayed the scene. She said Sweatt had taken her mother to the “back of the room ... and heard the gun go off.”
“You just take care of those children for us,” the dispatcher told the woman.
After about an hour and “several unsuccessful attempts” by officers to make contact with anyone in the home, SWAT entered and discovered the bodies, authorities said.
“This is a tragedy,” said neighbor Ansel Brewer. “It just so hard to imagine something like this going on here. Why would someone do this?”
Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard and Jeffrey Coll ins in Columbia and Lisa J. Adams in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: In stories sent Oct. 30 and 31 about a man who police say killed five people and then himself, The Associated Press reported erroneously, based on information provided by the sheriff at a news conference, that the shooter had been scheduled to be in court on unrelated charges the day of the killings. Greenwood County Sheriff Tony Davis now says that the man told relatives that he missed a court hearing that day, but that no hearings had been scheduled for the man’s case.