Kentucky community struggles with family slaying

Posted at 2:26 PM, Feb 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-17 14:26:47-05

(CNN) — To the pastor of Forward Community Church in Corbin, Kentucky, Jason Hendrix was a mainstay of the congregation, arriving early Sunday mornings to help set up in the movie theater that doubles as a house of prayer.

“Everybody that knows Jason — it has been amazing to hear what they thought about him,” pastor Drew Mahan said Tuesday. “He was strong in his faith. … When you think of our church, you think of guys like Jason.”

In the southeastern Kentucky community where the 16-year-old made such an impression on many, those who knew him struggled to come to terms with how the church-going ROTC student remembered as “everybody’s friend” ended up a suspect in the shooting deaths last week of his parents and sister.

“He stood out among all of our teenagers,” his pastor said.

His brief life ended in a hail of gunfire with police after Hendrix allegedly ignored a traffic stop by a Maryland state trooper more than 600 miles from home.

The investigation into Hendrix’s background resulted in the discovery of the three bodies in Kentucky.

Mahan said he believes that Hendrix was grounded by his parents following an argument with them on February 9. They cut off the teen’s cellphone and computer use, he said. A newspaper also reported that the dispute was over computer use.

Investigators are looking at the computer dispute as a possible motive, and are trying to piece together the sequence of events, police said

Mahan said “all signs” indicate that Hendrix allegedly killed his family before attending a youth meeting at the church last Wednesday night.

Authorities also believe the shootings occurred Wednesday evening. Police said they had never been called to the home before.

“We are all racking our brains,” Mahan said, adding that Hendrix “gave zero indication” that anything was amiss that night. “He was just the normal Jason that everybody knew.”

Two states, many questions

It started as a mundane traffic stop on Valentine’s Day.

Hendrix, who was driving a Honda Pilot, failed to stop when a state trooper tried to pull him over on Interstate 95, according to the Baltimore County Police Department.

A car chase ensued, and police cornered him after he struck another vehicle at an intersection in Woodlawn, forcing him to stop.

“As officers approached the Honda Pilot, gunfire came from the vehicle, striking an officer,” police said. “Officers then returned fire on the vehicle.”

Hendrix, who was alone in the car, was shot to death. The officer injured in the shootout was treated at a local hospital and released.

“His ballistic vest stopped the round that struck him,” police said.

In the car, police found four .38-caliber handguns, one 9 mm handgun, a shotgun, and a backpack with ammunition. The 9mm handgun and one of the .38-caliber handguns were loaded.

Report: Parents, sister shot in the head

In Kentucky, a grisly scene awaited investigators.

Baltimore County detectives traced the suspect’s car registration to an address in Corbin. Their law enforcement counterparts in Kentucky went to the address and found the bodies of Kevin and Sarah Hendrix and their daughter.

“They were just wonderful people,” Mahan said of the family. They were “very connected in the community and there’s just so many people that are hurting right now.”

Police are looking at Jason Hendrix as the main suspect in the deaths of his parents and sister, according to the Times Tribune newspaper, citing a Corbin city police detective.

All signs point to him as the suspect, Maj. Rob Jones told CNN affiliate WLEX, but he added, “we still have to finish our investigation to definitely say if this is the guy.”

Corbin Police Chief David Campbell told the Lexington Herald-Leader the teen “was mad at his parents over the usage of his computer. They had taken his computer rights away.”

The Corbin Police Department declined to comment when reached by CNN on Monday, saying it only had limited information.

Campbell told the Lexington newspaper that all three victims had been shot in the head at least twice.

“A pillow was used to try to muffle the gunshot used on all three individuals,” he said. “The pillows were still on their faces.”

The coroner’s office is still trying to determine when the killings happened, Jones told WLEX. Based on their investigation at the crime scene, Jones said, “officers are thinking it was sometime around Wednesday,” several days before the suspect was killed in the Baltimore County shootout.

“This could be the furthest thing that we could ever imagine happening,” Mahan said. “It’s just unimaginable for us.”

At Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, where Sarah Hendrix was an associate professor of social work, officials said in a Facebook post that the community was heartbroken.

“We have lost a member of our family, ” the post said, “a wonderful educator, colleague, and friend.”

In Corbin, those who knew the family wonder whether there was something they missed.

“That was not the Jason we knew,” Mahan said. “There was no sign. Nothing at all. It sounds crazy to say that because people think that we had to see something, you had to know something. We knew nothing.”