NEW YORK: A former US Marine and Iraq war veteran wanted for murdering his ex-wife and five of her relatives was found dead from self-inflicted stab wounds in woods near his home on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Bradley Stone, 35, stabbed himself fatally about half a mile from his home in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania after going house to house, killing ex-wife Nicole Hill, 33, her mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and 14-year-old niece.
Hill’s 17-year-old nephew Anthony Flick was cut in his head and hands, losing three fingers while trying to fight off his attacker, Montgomery County district attorney Risa Vetri Ferman told reporters. He remains in a serious condition in hospital.
Ferman described Stone’s pre-dawn shooting and slashing rampage on Monday as pre-meditated, saying there could be “no justification for snuffing out these six innocent lives.”
The murders have rocked the communities of Souderton, Harleysville and Lansdale near Philadelphia just 10 days before Christmas.
“This is just a horrific tragedy that our community has had to endure,” Ferman told a news conference. “We’re really numb from what we’ve had to go through over the last couple of days.”
Stone’s body was discovered at approximately 1:38 pm (1838 GMT) in a wooded area just outside Pennsburg, she said. It was not yet clear when he died.
The grim discovery came on the second day of a massive manhunt led by local, state and federal law enforcement, combing the area for Stone, who was described as “armed and dangerous.”
Ferman said the coroner would confirm the cause and manner of death, but said that a knife had been found at the scene.
“We believe he died of self-inflicted cutting wounds in the center part of his body,” she said.
Authorities linked the killings to an ugly custody dispute between Stone and Hill over the couple’s eight and five-year-old daughters which followed an acrimonious divorce in 2009.
Neighbors told TV networks that their relations were fraught and that they were repeatedly overheard arguing. Stone had gone onto remarry and had an infant child with his second wife.
Last week he had tried to secure an emergency custody order of his children but the court denied his request, Ferman said.
US media said Stone suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of his deployment to Iraq in 2008, but Ferman said she had no knowledge of him being diagnosed with PTSD.
He was undergoing court-supervised treatment for driving under the influence, she said.
Stone’s current wife and infant child are safe and secure, as are the two daughters he had with Hill, officials said.
Photographs show Stone with closely cropped red hair, a beard and mustache, as in November 2013, and a second modified to show him clean shaven as he looked latterly.
Stone, who was five-foot, 10-inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 195 pounds (89 kilos), was known to use a cane or a walker.
His modest home was decked in Christmas decorations with a US flag hanging outside, according to pictures posted on twitter — little hint of the tragedy that was to follow.
Prosecutors say Stone killed four generations of his ex-wife’s family, beginning with Hill’s sister and her family.
Sister Patricia was shot in the arm and head, her husband Aaron in the head and hands, as well as being cut in the head, and their 14-year-old daughter Nina stabbed to death, Ferman said.
Stone shot and stabbed his ex-mother-in-law Joanne in the neck, and shot dead Hill’s grandmother, Patricia, Ferman added.
Hill died from multiple gunshot wounds in front of her young daughters. Stone dropped off the girls in their pyjamas with a neighbor in his hometown of Pennsburg, authorities said.