Mother leaves note in Kingsport murder-suicide; had reached "emotional breaking point" with son

Rain Smith • Mar 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The congregation of Kingsport's Bethany Presbyterian Church knew David Crabtree as a talented musician, "really coming into his own, doing great work and turning a corner in his life."

Working part-time at the church since December, Crabtree, 31, was preparing the choir for their Easter Cantata. Rev. Charles Echols says he was concerned for his mother, who had recently taken a fall. Crabtree was helping out around her home with various chores like mowing the yard.

"He never spoke an ill word about his mother. When he spoke to our choir about her he was always a loving son that wanted to care for her."

At 12:43 Saturday afternoon, his mother, Dorthea Williams, 70, called Central Dispatch. She said she had shot her son, and was making threats to kill herself.

Inside Crabtree's residence, 2316 Pearl Street , police found Williams with a single gun shot wound to the head. Crabtree suffered shots to the head, chest and back. They were pronounced dead in a murder-suicide, a .22 caliber revolver was found at the scene.

At the Shadyview Road home of Williams, just up the street from Crabtree's, she left a note behind. According to the police incident report, the note said she was, "upset with her son's alcoholism and his other life choices," and she had reached an "emotional breaking point."

"He was a 31-year-old young man who his mother cared for, and had been working on an associates degree for seven years," said Det. Monica Powers.

"I've used the words 'failure to launch,' and that's truly sort of what it is. He just didn't take the next step and move on."

Police say Crabtree grew up in the Pearl Street home where he was killed. When his father died and his mother later remarried, he took it over.

On nearby Shadyview Road, his mother lived with her second husband. According to Powers, "he had no idea when she left the house that this was happening."

She said she was leaving to feed her son's dog.

"This is a family that is grieving, they've lost a mother and son, and there's really not any explanation," Powers said.

Police do not know who owns the revolver used in the shootings. Williams’ husband told police they did not have any firearms, and Crabtree’s gun cabinet did not appear to have been tampered with.

Back at Bethany Presbyterian Church, the congregation is "crushed" by Saturday's shootings, said Rev. Echols.

"There are problems I guess that happen between parents and children, but nothing that would ever lead us to believe something like this would happen," he said.

A church newsletter from January introduced Crabtree as the new music director. Crabtree said he enjoyed playing and listening to classical music, the literature of Tolkien, Tolstoy, Alexandre Dumas and the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. He also liked scientific studies, especially math and physics.

According to Det. Powers, Crabtree also tutored at Northeast State Technical Community College.

"Our church absolutely loved him and the ministry he performed here," Echols said. "We really felt like David was coming into his own, making some turns in his life, and the right foot was going forward. Then of course, we have this weekend which negates whatever might have happened."

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