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Family 'sick' in wake of killings at a home in Pennsylvania community

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette logoPittsburgh Post-Gazette 2/12/2016 Karen Kane
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PITTSBURGH _ David Remaley said he had a "sick feeling" when he saw TV news video of police vehicles blocking the road to his son's home in rural Westmoreland County.

It was noon on Wednesday. David and his wife, Joyce, tried to call Davey and Dana Remaley at their home, a bungalow in Hempfield Township, just outside New Stanton.

There was no answer.

Then, they tried Davey's cell phone.

Again, no answer.

Within a couple of hours, David and Joyce learned things were worse than what they could have imagined.

Their daughter-in-law, Dana, 46, and their 8-year-old grandson, Caleb, had been shot dead. And police were saying the person responsible was their 14-year-old grandson, Jacob.

Now, they're left to wonder why their devoutly religious teenage grandson _ a boy they considered "meek" and "loving" _ would allegedly kill his mother and his brother as they slept in their beds.

"There's no words to describe what I was thinking when Davey told me. He was calm. He didn't say much. What he did say was that Jacob shot his brother and his mother and they were both dead. That's what he said," Remaley recounted in a telephone interview Thursday morning.

What they didn't know was what Jacob had told police Wednesday _ a chilling account of obtaining a Ruger .38-caliber handgun, loading it and deliberately shooting in the head his mother and then his brother before calling 911 at 6:53 a.m.

Court documents indicate the initial call from Jacob involved the statement, "Why didn't he kill me, I need help." Then, the phone was disconnected.

The 911 operator contacted state police at Greensburg. Meanwhile, a second call came from Jacob. "(Jacob) started yelling, asking why they hung up on him and that he needed an ambulance." He identified himself as Jacob and gave his address. He related "that he didn't know why his dad put a gun in his bed. ... (he) became hysterical and told the 911 operator that he had blood on his hands."

When initial responders arrived, Jacob was in the front yard, wearing a T-shirt and boxer briefs. He kept repeating, "Mom," police said. He went back into his house then returned outside. A female neighbor noticed he was carrying a handgun. The neighbor told Jacob she loved him. Jacob responded, "I love my mom, too." He sat down in the yard and threw the gun into an adjacent yard.

Police said they contacted Jacob's father at work who gave permission for police to interview his son, who initially was taken to the Westmoreland Regional hospital.

His tape-recorded account to police differed from what he said to the 911 operator.

According to court documents, "During questioning, (Jacob) confessed to intentionally shooting his mother ... and his brother ... in the head while they slept in their respective beds." Police said he told them he had obtained the handgun from atop the kitchen refrigerator and brought it to his room. It was about 6:50 a.m. Wednesday. After determining the gun was not loaded, Jacob told police he returned to the kitchen and obtained a magazine, loaded the handgun, then went to his mother's room, shooting her in the head. He then went to his brother's room and, again, fired a single gunshot to the boy's head.

"(Jacob) related that if his father, David, would have been in the residence at the time ... he would have shot him as well," a police affidavit reads. He said he contemplated suicide after the shootings.

Police noted that Jacob's father, Davey, was at work at the time of the shootings. Remaley said his son, 52, is a master plumber who retired about three years ago from the U.S. Army, works for the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Dana Remaley had worked for the West Hempfield Middle School as a personal care assistant, according to Barbara J. Marin, superintendent of the Hempfield Area School District. Caleb was a third-grade student at Stanwood Elementary School, within the same school district. Jacob was a student at Hempfield High School.

"We're trying to work through this. It's just so hard to make sense of this," Remaley, 74, said.

Jacob and Caleb are Remaley's only grandchildren. Remaley's youngest son _ Davey's younger brother, Adam _ has no children.

It's not the first tragedy to have struck Remaley. His wife killed herself in 1997, shooting herself in the head while she lay in the family's bathtub, fully dressed.

In 2001, he married Joyce, who had lost her husband to suicide. "We had something in common. Now, we have this, too," Remaley said.

Joyce said she considered Jacob and Caleb her grandsons, though not biologically. "They were a part of my life since they were born," she said.

Joyce, 75, said she's been praying and thinking about what happened nonstop since Wednesday.

She said she remembers a poignant conversation she had this summer with Jacob, with whom she said she had "a special bond," when he and his younger brother stayed with them at their Penn Hills home for a few days.

Jacob told her he was troubled by his relationship with his mother.

"He said to me, 'Do you know that my mother is really mad at God. She's mad because he took her mother.'" Joyce said Dana's mother had died of cancer at about the age of 59 about a decade ago. "She never got over it," Joyce commented.

She said Dana was encouraging her sons to grow their hair long so they could donate it to a nonprofit group that makes natural-hair wigs for people who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment.

Joyce said her daughter-in-law was a devoted mother who was "strict and organized" with the children. An accomplished cook, she was "very particular" about what she fed her family and what they ate outside their home. "She kept a close watch on things," Joyce recalled. Dana worked briefly as a paralegal after Jacob was born, and Joyce and David babysat. But, Dana gave up working to be a full-time mom, only returning to work within the past three or four years, Joyce said.

"She was a very busy, very organized person. Very disciplined. She was a very good cook and was always hosting parties for her friends, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple ... She kept tabs on everything," Joyce said.

She said Jacob was "intellectual. A boy who loved to read." Having spent two or three days a week with him from birth through about age 3, she said she felt she knew him "inside out. ... He was a meek boy. Tender. Very loving. He loved our cats. He is just a loving boy."

She said Caleb was "a pistol. He liked athletics ... They were very different but they were close. Caleb went to Jacob for everything. he taught him a lot."

She said religion appeared to be very important to Jacob, noting that it bothered him that her mother didn't attend Catholic church with him in Greensburg.

Joyce described Davey as a quiet man, who valued his privacy. He wasn't a hunter, but his father said he was an accomplished marksman who kept at least a few weapons in his house. "I know he had two handguns. He carried a gun with him all the time. He had a license to carry and he'd go to the gun range. I know he showed the kids about guns and explained things," David said of his son. During his military career, which included time in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Army, he served in Iraq.

Joyce and David said they regret that their usual practice of spending Thanksgiving together with Davey and his family didn't happen this year. Unexpected company came to their Penn Hills home so they decided to stay home, declining Davey and Dana's invitation to dine with them.

The last time David and Joyce saw the family was for a special "grandparents breakfast" at Caleb's school in September: both Davey and Dana attended, with Dana having worked hard to organize the event for the school.

Jacob is charged as an adult with two counts of criminal homicide and two counts of first-degree murder.

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