Behind Monday’s madness

Published 11:32 pm Thursday, June 12, 2014

Before his standoff with police Monday, leading to the evacuation of Elephant’s Fork Elementary School and his apparent suicide, Gary Abernathy’s demise allegedly began in Greensville County almost two years ago.

On July 11, 2012, in the small, unincorporated community of Skippers, folks passing by spotted a 2008 Hyundai on fire and called it in to police, according to Patricia Watson, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the city of Emporia and Greensville County.

The burning car belonged to Donna Mae Hill Abernathy, Gary Abernathy’s wife, Watson said Thursday.

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After reporting it to the insurance company as stolen and collecting the proceeds, Gary and his wife, whom city records indicate lived in Suffolk at the time, evidently thought that approximately seven miles south of Emporia, just off Interstate 95, was a good place for them to torch the vehicle, Watson alleges.

“It was not a major highway,” Watson elaborated of the location.

The investigation, she said, was turned over to the state police because the alleged crime spanned more than one jurisdiction.

Warrants for Gary and Donna Abernathy’s arrest, both on one count each of obtaining money by false pretense and arson, were issued June 3.

Six days later, on Monday, Donna Abernathy was pulled over and served on a major highway in Suffolk at 6:30 a.m. State police couldn’t confirm which highway.

Two hours later, when troopers tried to serve her husband at home, directly across from the elementary school on William Reid Drive, he fled on foot into the nearby neighborhood of Sadler Heights, witnesses say.

There, Gary Abernathy threatened to kill an elderly couple and took their van, according to one of the residents, before returning to his house and locking himself inside to create what police call a “barricade situation.”

After more than 700 students and staff at Elephant’s Fork Elementary were evacuated — in a necessarily secretive operation, led through the woods and onto buses lined up along Route 58 — Gary Abernathy apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound late in the afternoon, police say.

“I was very surprised and shocked,” Watson said of what Gary Abernathy chose over facing the twin Class 4 felony charges, which, she added, together carry a maximum prison term of 30 years.

“That’s not your normal reaction that I’m used to dealing with.”

When a reporter rang the clerk’s office at Greensville Circuit Court on Wednesday, they were expecting both Mr. and Mrs. Abernathy to appear Thursday for the procedural return of their arrest warrants.

Surprise, again, that only one could make the appearance.

According to the state police, Donna Abernathy was bonded out of Western Tidewater Regional Jail late Monday, after she was informed of her husband’s death.

“It has not been confirmed to me that Gary Abernathy is deceased, and we still have her (Donna Abernathy’s) case to try,” Watson said.

Watson said that she believed Donna Abernathy is aged in her 50s. Gary Abernathy was 52.