Police in Richmond, Ky., have arrested a 51-year-old man for allegedly murdering a local couple. Thomas C. Birl, of Cadiz, is accused of killing Christopher and Gracie Hager, 54 and 52 respectively, of Richmond, a city about half an hour south-southeast of Lexington.
Lexington CBS affiliate WKYT said that the shooting occurred Tuesday at about 2:20 in the afternoon and that the Hagers owned the duplex where they died. The Herald-Leader reported that the couple had just bought the property in the 200 block of Keystone Drive in July. NBC affiliate WLEX said the suspected killer lived at the duplex.
WKYT reported that Birl gunned down the Hagers, barricaded himself inside a dwelling, and then set it on fire. Citing court and police documents, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the police detonated “rounds of powdered gas” inside the burning building to further smoke out the suspect; Birl then “leaped” from the burning building while it was on fire.
The local police department noted in a Facebook post that Birl was taken into custody with some degree of difficulty given the barricade and the subsequent fire:
Due to how Mr. Birl chose to exit his barricaded position, he was taken to a medical facility as a safety precaution to ensure he did not have any injuries not visible to law enforcement. Mr. Birl remains at the medical facility with law enforcement at his side and will be taken to a Detention Facility as soon as his treatment is complete.
The police department said it arrested Birl on two counts of murder, one count of first-degree arson, tampering with physical evidence, and first-degree criminal mischief.
Despite the link to the property, the police department said it was unclear whether or why the victims were targeted.
“It is unknown at this time if the victims were familiar with the suspect before their death,” the Facebook post continued. “The preliminary investigation did not indicate the victims were at the residence to serve notice of eviction. The investigation is still underway, and detectives are still processing evidence. As updates become available, we will release the information as soon as possible.”
Neighbor Deborah Fennell told WKYT that she heard two gunshots, looked outside, and saw Birl blasting away Gracie Hager, who was inside a pickup truck. Christopher Hager had already been shot and was “laying on the concrete” screaming, Fennell said.
Birl “was at the cab of the truck,” Fennell recalled, and “shot about three shots into the cab of the truck like he was really trying to kill the person in the truck.”
Then the neighbor said Birl returned his attention to Christopher Hager to finish the job. Birl shot Christopher Hager in the head, she said.
Fennell described Birl’s actions as both menacing and fatal.
“He was vicious about it,” Fennell said. “When he was shooting that poor woman, he was taking the gun and pushing at . . . and shooting at the same time . . . like he couldn’t kill her hard enough for something. He was vicious. And he was vicious when he turned around and shot the guy, the last blow that killed him. That completely silenced him.”
The police told the newspaper that the victims’ property was almost an entire loss. It sold recently for $130,000; a friend of the victims calculated the damage at about $100,000.
Heartbreaking. 💔 Loran Baudendistel says she grew up with Chris and Gracie Hager, the Richmond couple whose lives were cut short yesterday.
“They were just so full of love and faith and just everything that Richmond needed out of people.”
— LEX 18 News (@LEX18News) August 4, 2021
Lexington’s interim police chief told WLEX that the victims were well known.
“Our community is saddened because Mr. and Mrs. Hager are pillars of our community,” said Rodney Richardson. “A lot of people knew them. A lot of people had contact with them.”
Watch WLEX’s coverage below:
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