An Alabama man who killed his wife and two teen daughters before turning the gun on himself in front of police left a lengthy note prior to taking his own life.
Authorities are not releasing the contents of that letter, but Riverside Mayor Rusty Jessup said the note reportedly hinted at mental instability and financial issues, though he had not known that prior to Sunday’s horrific acts.
“Everyone is just scratching their heads,’’ Jessup said. “It’s mind blowing.”
The ordeal began to unfold Sunday morning when authorities say 54-year-old William Huntoon “Billy” Vance called his friend, former Riverside Police Chief Rick Oliver, and told him he had just “done something terrible” and was going to hurt himself, the mayor said, and asked him to come over.
Oliver called Riverside police and then headed over to the Vance home on Depot Street.
When Oliver arrived, Billy Vance was sitting on the front porch with a gun in his hand, Jessup said.
“Rick couldn’t talk him away from the gun or get him to put it down,’’ Jessup said. “He never got out of his seat, but he wouldn’t turn loose of the gun.’’
When Riverside Officer Jake Riley arrived, Oliver told Billy Vance he was going into the house to check on the kids. “He (Vance) said, ‘Well you can check on them, but they’re gone.”
Oliver was inside the home when Billy Vance killed himself, which was witnessed by Riley. “In the flash of an eye, he put the gun to his head,’’ Jessup said.
A search of the home turned Billy Vance’s wife, 51-year-old Florence Diane “Flo” Vance, and their daughters, Samantha, 16, and Cara, 13. All three were found in separate rooms and had been shot to death.
The entire family was pronounced dead on the scene just before 10 a.m.
Riverside is a community of several thousand in St. Clair County. Jessup said everyone knew and loved the Vance family. “This is so out of character,’’ he said.
Both Billy and Flo Vance were both deaf.
Flo formerly worked at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and worked as a vocational evaluator at Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services.
Jessup said when he first ran for public office in 2004, the Vances were one of the first families that let him put a campaign sign in their yard.
“I knew them for a long time,’’ he said.
The couple moved to Riverside in the late 1990s. They often attended city functions and were involved in their daughters’ schools.
The mayor described Samantha and Cara as “beautiful,” and well-loved.
Samantha placed third in the state for archery and was described as bubbly and outgoing. Cara, who just finished the seventh grade last week, was the quiet one, he said.
“They were great. They were just what you would want kids to be,’’ Jessup said. “They had parents who loved each other. They were raised good, and they were good students.”
Flo was originally from New York and attended the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jessup said her family is en route to Alabama.
There has been an outpouring of support on social media from those who knew her, calling her “the sweetest woman” you would ever meet.
“My heart is heavy this evening as today we in the Deaf/HH~interpreting community have lost not just a precious colleague and dear sweet soul, but with her, her entire family. Florence Vance was always so friendly and encouraging,” her friend, Robin Wohlford Pass, posted on social media.
“One didn’t have to know her well to appreciate her professional ethic. She had a smile for everyone and was a loving and dedicated mother to her 2 teenage daughters,” the post continued.
“This loss cuts to the very core. Mental health is not to be ignored. We must destigmatize getting therapy. Counseling shouldn’t be a taboo topic. And yes, sometimes the chemistry in brains needs medicine to balance it. We live in a broken world, the most honorable thing to do is ask for and accept help. We ALL need help sometimes.
“May Flo and her family rest in peace and may the events of this morning never be repeated.
“If you are struggling, Crisis Text Line (text BRAVE to 741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).”
Jessup said he spoke with Billy Vance just last week. People often used part of their property to picnic or just hang out, and often left litter behind.
“Billy was trying to monitor that,’’ he said. “He bought a brand new trash can and left a note saying if they would put their trash in the can, he would make sure it got picked up.”
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,’’ he said. “He just did that out of the goodness of his heart.”
Jessup said they may never why Billy Vance decided to end his family’s lives.
“We’re just at a loss,’’ he said.