CHAPEL HILL -- Five days after Randy Leverne McKendall was in front of a judge for violating a domestic violence protection order, police say, he jumped out of a black Ford truck outside his wife's workplace, exchanged words with her in the chilly morning air, then fatally shot her before taking his own life.
Shennel McCrimon McKendall, 37, was several hundred yards from the front door of UNC Hospitals' James T. Hedrick Building on Monday when the 34-year-old man she married nearly 5 1/2 years ago fired a 9 mm handgun at her at close range, police said. The murder-suicide took place shortly after 7:30 a.m., as UNC Hospitals employees were starting their day at the remote office building. Nearly half a dozen people saw it, investigators said. The couple's turbulent past month, one that legal officials know well, highlights the limits of protection orders and raises questions about whether a workplace can be fully protected from domestic rage.
"This is just gut-wrenching," said Kit Gruelle of Chatham County, a nationally recognized expert on domestic violence. Shennel McKendall, experts say, did everything by the book.
On Nov. 9, she sought an emergency protection order from Chatham County court officials. Her husband had so badly twisted her wrist while they argued about what to watch on TV that it bled, she told them. She also complained that in October her husband had grabbed a radio from her teenage daughter and thrown it across a room after the girl refused to turn it down.
A court date was set for Nov. 15. Judge Pat Devine was on the bench. Shennel McKendall was represented by Melissa Averett, director of Domestic Violence Civil Legal Services in Chapel Hill.
"My recollection of the hearing is that I had to admonish him, that this was very serious," Devine said Monday, referring to Randy McKendall. "He did some inappropriate laughing and smirking, which was troubling." Devine ordered Randy McKendall to stay away from the red brick home the couple shared at 612 Mitchell's Chapel Road, Pittsboro. He was not to go near his wife, to call her or to communicate with her family. He was to surrender any firearms.
A suicide threat
The very next day, court officials say, he violated the order.
On Nov. 16, Shennel McKendall told Chatham investigators that her husband had called her from the Mitchell's Chapel Road home and told her he was going to commit suicide. She heard two shots. Deputies rushed to the house. Randy McKendall was not there. But in Shennel McKendall's 17-year-old daughter's bedroom, there was evidence that a TV and nightstand had been shot. Investigators found a 9 mm shell casing. They also confiscated a rifle.
Randy McKendall was charged with violating the protection order by contacting his wife by telephone. The warrant was served in Lee County, where he had relatives. After a suicide attempt that landed him in a Lee County hospital, Randy McKendall turned himself in to county authorities Nov. 22 to be charged with violating the protection order. A magistrate released him on $1,000 bond, court records show.
Shennel McKendall was advised to stay away from her Mitchell's Chapel Road home, and she did.
On Nov. 23, after Domestic Violence Officer Cpl. Brad Johnson was briefed about the case, Randy McKendall was arrested and placed under 48-hour lockup with a suggested bail of $5,000. Johnson urged Kayley Taber, an assistant district attorney in Chatham, to seek a higher bail. Devine got the case.
"I set the bond at $10,000, and that is quite high for an alleged violation of a domestic protection order. "It's a horrible tragedy, but in this particular case, I'm satisfied that, with what we knew at the time, that we did what we could."
Randy McKendall, who had a teenage son from another relationship, was out on bail before the court-appointed public defender had time to meet with him. Where he went and what he did over the next four days is unclear. Relatives declined to comment. "I want to know where he got the gun," said Averett, the lawyer who represented Shennel McKendall.
Police were not sure when Randy McKendall arrived Monday at the Hedrick Building, which is nestled in woods nearly three miles from UNC-Chapel Hill's main campus. From witness interviews, they think Shennel McKendall parked her 1999 forest green Honda Accord in a lower parking lot, then met up with several fellow employees along the tree-lined walks.
Police were not sure whether Randy McKendall jumped out of the Ford truck with the engine on or backed it over a curb and a small tree flanking the street. They found it with the gear shift in reverse. Late Monday, investigators were collecting witness statements to piece together what happened in the parking lot. There were reports of as many as five gunshots.
Rarely do UNC police get such cases. "The last homicide was actually a similar situation, it was a murder-suicide, and that was more than 10 years ago," Maj. Jeff McCracken said.
Neither campus police nor UNC Hospitals police were aware of the couple's problems. Shennel McKendall had not sought extra protection, they said. The mood was somber at the Hedrick Building all day. Few of the 200 employees wanted to talk.
"I think people are scared because it happened at work," said Michael Barbee, who arrived about 10 minutes before the shooting. "Anybody could have been walking in at the time."
Shennel McKendall worked in the human resources department with six other co-workers. She was the receptionist that job applicants first encountered. Shaken co-workers were ushered to their cars after the event. The employment office closed. Grief counselors were on the scene.
Those who stayed shed tears as they remembered a sweet, spunky woman caught in a dark web that she had tried to escape.
Outside Shennel McKendall's grandmother's house Monday evening, aunts, uncles and cousins gathered and talked quietly near the front porch, waiting for McKendall's parents to arrive. They live in New York, where McKendall grew up, relatives said. Few knew of her marital problems.
Kenneth Dark, an uncle, lived nearby. "She was a good neighbor, but he wasn't; he wanted to fight all the time," Dark said. "If I knew it was going to get to this, I don't know what I would have done."
In the Berkley Place neighborhood in Sanford where Randy McKendall grew up, Cora McIver, a longtime resident who lived across the street, was saddened by the news Monday.
"I feel really low right now," McIver said, "because Pie -- that's what we called him -- he knew he could come talk to me. I don't know what was going on up there. He was just a fine young man to me."