Teen son helps unravel Florida shootings

May 5, 2009 6:53:32 AM PDT
A 13-year-old boy who watched his father kill his stepmother and two younger brothers before aiming the rifle at him is helping investigators reconstruct what happened in their Florida home. The teen was staying with his grandparents Monday, a day after investigators said his father, Troy Ryan Bellar, 34, shot and killed his wife, Wendy Bellar, 31, and then their 5-month-old and 8-year-old sons following an argument.

Bellar then chased his oldest son, Nathan, through the home's cluttered garage and took aim, but tripped on a bicycle before he could get off another fatal shot. As Nathan ran screaming to the safety of a neighbor's house, his father killed himself in the front lawn.

Detectives praised the surviving teen for being helpful and answering their questions despite the horror he witnessed.

"His entire family is gone," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who said the teenager cried some and was very quiet. "What he witnessed, what he was engaged in, most people in this world will never witness."

His father and stepmother had fought before, but Nathan Bellar told investigators he had no reason to believe their latest exchange would turn violent.

But then Wendy Bellar carried 5-month-old Zack James Bellar out the front door in a car seat when her husband followed them with a 7.62 mm rifle, the sheriff said. She intended to take the infant and 8-year-old Ryan Patrick Bellar to her in-laws for the night but was shot down on the screen porch.

Investigators said they had not found any suicide note, and a motive remained unclear for the killings in Lakeland, between Tampa and Orlando.

"They argued a little bit, but nothing significant," Judd said.

It wasn't the first argument for the couple who'd been married for a 10 years. According to an arrest affidavit, Troy Bellar accused his wife of hitting, punching and scratching him in March. Wendy Bellar was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery, and the case was pending.

After Nathan safely reached a home nearby, a neighbor relayed information from him to a 911 dispatcher.

"A boy's here at my house that lives there and says that his dad shot his mom and there's a baby there," the neighbor, who was not identified, told a 911 operator.

Deputies arrived at a horrific scene: Wendy Bellar and her two young sons dead from gunshot wounds in their screened-in porch and their father lifeless in the front yard. A preliminary investigation indicates that more than 10 rounds were fired in all.

Investigators say Troy Bellar ran a home remodeling and handyman business, which next-door neighbor Doug Lane said seemed to do a steady business despite the economic downturn.

Judd couldn't say if the family was experiencing any financial difficulties.

Records show the husband had been arrested twice in the county, on suspicion of armed robbery and aggravated battery in 1994 and for driving under the influence in 1999. He was convicted of petit/retail theft in the first case and of driving under the influence in the second.

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