As police search for clues about what caused a man to kill the mother of his child and another man before killing himself, people who knew Robert Liddick are in shock, trying to grasp that the neighborhood handyman could have done what police are claiming he did.
Police have said that Liddick, 41, shot Wendy K. Royer, 36, and Paul Johnson, 34, around 1:40 a.m. Wednesday with a high-powered rifle at the Brookridge Drive home Johnson owned in Hampden Township.
Liddick later killed himself with a shot to the head, Cumberland County Coroner Todd Eckenrode said. He was found in West Fairview Point Park.
"He was amazing at welding, at working on cars. He sawed off one car and welded it to another," said Carol Custer, a neighbor of Liddick's on South 30th Street in Camp Hill.
Custer and next-door neighbor Louise Anderson were not aware that Royer and Liddick, who had lived in the neighborhood since before the birth of their son, were having problems.
"We were usually out mowing the lawn at the same time. I saw her two or three weeks ago, right after that big storm. I looked out and the grass was this tall," Custer said, holding her hands about 6 inches apart.
Anderson thought she saw Royer last week.
"I always thought they were terribly nice," she added. Although she did not know them well, both Liddick and Royer waved to her and said hello in passing.
"We talked flowers," Anderson said about Royer. She also said Royer had specifically told her that she and Liddick were not married.
Custer, whose son played T-ball with Liddick and Royer's 8-year-old son, said the boy liked to come up to her house and help her prune her grape vines.
"He'd come up and ride Josh's scooter," she recalled.
The 8-year-old boy also liked going next-door to Anderson's house and playing with her 3-pound teacup chihuahua, Tiny.
"He just loved that dog," she said.
Liddick did "something with satellites," Custer said, but what, she did not know.
"He was in the (Army) Reserves and joked that he could tell us where he was, but then he'd have to kill us," she said.
Liddick served two six-month tours overseas. While he was gone, he stayed in touch with his son and Royer though video chat and email, Custer said.
Both women said they had never heard the couple swear, let alone raise their voices to each other or to their son.
The picture they painted was of a couple working separate shifts to be able to provide for their son.
"They never seemed to see each other," Anderson said. "He'd be coming in as she was leaving."
Custer said she thought Liddick worked second shift. Royer, she said, did "something I want to say with pricing or marketing," although she couldn't be more specific.
When both parents were at work, their son stayed with his grandparents, who live locally, or with Royer's sister, Custer said.
Royer was an avid gardener, Custer said, and could often be seen outside weeding or pruning or hanging baskets of flowers.
The front of the tiny bungalow bore signs of meticulous landscaping, including carefully tended perennial day lilies and decorative sawgrass. Out back, an in-ground pool had been drained and stripped of its liner.
"Once they drained the pool, Rob would bring the boy to the Y where I work to play in our water park," Custer said. The little boy was always excited to see his neighbor and would greet her with a "Hi, Miss Carol," she added.
Assistant District Attorney Christylee Peck said Wednesday afternoon that the 8-year-old boy is in the custody of his grandparents.
In addition to the defunct swimming pool, there was a pergola in back of the home with a porcelain berry plant growing up over it, hiding the detached shed. Weeds, including poison sumac, bore witness to a lack of recent care.
The garage at the back of the house, accessible only by the long, L-shaped driveway, was where Liddick had his welding shop. A Jeep Wagonneer with faux wood siding sat in the driveway, as did a tow-behind unit that was under tarpaulin.
"Wendy had found a mother cat and her kittens in there," Custer said, pointing to the tarp-covered object, and had shown them to Brandon, who had tried to touch them and caused the mother to move them.
In addition to welding things himself, Liddick often helped his neighbors, even welding Custer's wheelbarrow for her.
Peck, who was on the scene with law enforcement officials from the district attorney's office, Lower Allen Township police, and the Cumberland County Forensics Unit, said that officials had a theory on the motive for the crime, but were not ready to elaborate further.
"It's a domestic situation," she said, echoing the reasons law enforcement had been giving since the news broke early Wednesday morning.
Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed confirmed that law enforcement was treating the Lower Allen Township home as both Royer's and Liddick's primary residence, as well as being the residence of their son.
Both the house in Lower Allen Township and the house in Hampden Township where the double homicide occurred were being treated as crime scenes, he added.
Peck said that the search warrant that officials executed at the South 30th Street home where Liddick and Royer lived allowed them to search for, "guns, ammunition and anything pertaining to the planning of the homicide."
After several hours inside, officials emerged carrying a large, clear plastic container that appeared to be full of papers as well as two brown paper bags, among other items.
At the scene of the double murder, crime scene tape stretched across the neatly mowed lawn on Brookridge Drive. A Hampden Township police officer stood guard outside the two-story brick house as investigators looked for more information on the early-morning shooting.
Neighbors in the Brookridge Drive subdivision were mostly shocked.
"I've lived here nine years," said Danielle Spila, a neighbor a few houses up from Johnson's home. She didn't know Johnson especially well, or Royer at all, but she said that they had no problems of which she was aware.
"It's just awful," she added, adding that she was concerned for Johnson's young son.
According to police, after shooting Royer and Johnson, Liddick left the home, went to the nearby Summerdale Diner, and called police to report a child left alone.
Johnson's 18-month-old son was in the upstairs of the home when his father and Royer were shot. The boy is now in the custody of his mother.
After the shooting, police issued a warning to the public to be on the lookout for Liddick and his 2008 F-150 pick-up truck, advising that Liddick should be considered armed and dangerous.
Around 11 a.m., Liddick's truck was found in West Fairview, near Enola. Authorities said that a note was found in the truck, but have declined to release any details about the content of the note.
A body, later identified as Liddick's, was pulled from the Susquehanna River, along with a rifle.
Criminal records show no dockets for a Robert Liddick in Cumberland or Dauphin counties. A Robert A. Liddick the same age as the deceased was cited in 1999 for driving without a valid inspection in Perry County. There are no other criminal records for that name in Perry County.