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Shooting scene quiet

September 04, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - The scene at Shepherd University where a Grant County, W.Va., man shot his two sons to death and then killed himself Saturday was eerily quiet Sunday.

A crowd of Shepherd University students who stood in shock watching the scene Saturday were gone, as well as rescue crews who helped hold up sheets over the bodies as they were examined by personnel.

About all that was left Sunday were 13 luminaries - candles set in a layer of sand in the bottom of brown paper bags.

The luminaries were lined up along a curb in the parking lot next to Thacher Hall, where Shepherd students Logan P. Pennington, 26, his brother, Benjamin M. Pennington, 24, and their father, Douglas W. Pennington, 49, died at about 2 p.m. Saturday.

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The luminaries had been burning at some point, but were out by Sunday afternoon. There was nothing at the scene to indicate who put them there and no one was at the scene.

A white, scented candle and a green candle were still burning.

Someone had laid a bouquet of flowers beside the candles, the bottom of their stems wrapped in a plastic grocery bag.

The only sounds were the occasional smack of a tennis ball at a tennis court in the distance and a passing car.

A day after the shootings, it was still unclear why Douglas W. Pennington shot his sons.

West Virginia State Police Trooper K.W. Martin said Sunday he has talked to Pennington family members about a possible motive for the shootings, but he declined to comment about what he learned.

Attempts to reach family members of the three were unsuccessful Sunday.

The bodies of the students have been sent to a state medical examiner's office in Charleston, W.Va., for autopsies and Douglas Pennington's body has been sent to a state medical examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy, Martin said.

Martin said preliminary results of the autopsies could be available this week.

"We're going to continue to conduct a full investigation of this," Martin said.

A Shepherd student who witnessed the incident from his Thacher Hall dormitory room said he saw a man trying to get away and possibly being shot in the hand, then in the back. The student said he saw a man wearing a camouflage hat and who appeared to be in his 40s shoot a younger man who was fleeing. The gunman walked to another man and shot him in the head, the student said.

The older man then shot himself with a black revolver he used to shoot the other men, the student said.

Troopers do not know how long Douglas Pennington was on campus before the shooting occurred at about 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Thacher Hall.

"There's no indication of a physical or verbal altercation," Martin said. "I believe they were standing there in the parking lot."

One witness told troopers the elder Pennington stood over one of his sons and shot him. The revolver carried six shots and all were fired, Martin said.

No one else was injured in the shooting.

On a Web site for college students on which Benjamin Pennington had a page, he listed his favorite activities, such as watching movies, listening to music and "just hanging out having a cold beer." He wrote that his major was sociology. A friend of Benjamin Pennington described Logan as more quiet than Benjamin and laid-back.

Students expressed shock over the shootings on Saturday and said Shepherdstown was an unlikely place for such violence.

Students who needed help dealing with the shootings were offered the chance to meet with counselors Saturday night in the Butcher Center. About two dozen students met with counselors, Shepherd University spokeswoman Valerie Owens said Sunday.

Counselors also were available to students Sunday at the school's dining hall on the east campus, Owens said.

School officials plan to have counselors available to students beginning at 8 p.m. today in residence halls as students start to return to the campus from the Labor Day weekend, Owens said. On Tuesday, counselors from Jefferson County Schools will be available to students in academic buildings, Owens said.

Student Government Association President Nicole Krause said over the weekend that she considers Shepherd's campus to be safe, and police said Saturday there were no plans to beef up security because of what happened.

The shooting occurred in a parking lot where anyone can enter, so Owens said it is difficult for school officials to guard against such an incident.

"We are a public institution and we have public areas," Owens said.

Residence halls at Shepherd are locked 24 hours a day and students living in the buildings must use an identification card or a key to enter them, Owens said Sunday. Students can bring a visitor to residence halls, but they must be checked in at a front desk, Owens said.

Visitors can enter the residence halls between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturdays, Owens said.

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