By Calvin Palmer
Residents of Gaffney, South Carolina, can once again rest easy. The serial killer who terrorized the community was shot dead by police in North Carolina yesterday.
Patrick Tracy Burris, 41, was shot by officers investigating a burglary in Gastonia, 30 miles from where the killing spree that claimed five lives started on June 27.
Bullets in his gun matched those that killed residents in and around Gaffney over six days last week, said State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd.
The Ford sport utility vehicle found in Gaston County matched the vehicle seen in Cherokee County and it had a “unique characteristic” known only to a witness and law enforcement.
Items related to the first killing of peach farmer Kline Cash, which started the nine-day manhunt, were found in Burris’ possession.
While evidence left no doubt he was the killer, police still have no idea why he did it.
Burris was a career criminal having committed larceny, forgery and breaking and entering from states across the Southeast, including Florida, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. He had been paroled from a North Carolina prison in April after serving nearly eight years.
Holding up a copy of Burris’ record, Lloyd said: “This is like 25 pages. At some point the criminal justice system is going to need to explain why this suspect was out on the street.”
Burris’ life on the street came to an end in Gastonia early yesterday after Mike and Terri Valentine called police to report a suspicious sport utility vehicle in their neighborhood.
They watched two people who sometimes visit the neighboring home get out of the vehicle, followed by a third man who matched the description of the killer: tall, heavyset, unshaven and wearing a baseball cap. The man appeared to be very drunk, Mike Valentine said.
When officers went inside, Terri Valentine said she heard someone yell “put it down” and heard a gunshot.
Then “bam, bam, bam, bam. Next thing I know, all of Gaston County was here,” she said.
Burris pulled a gun and fired a shot at the officers, striking Officer J.K. Shaw of the Gaston County Police Department in the leg. The officers returned fire, killing Burris.
Gaston County police said the other two people were in custody, but did not indicate whether they were facing charges.
The Gaffney killings happened in a 10-mile area over a period of six days. Peach farmer Cash, 63, was killed at his home on June 27; Hazel Linder, 83, and her 50-year-old daughter, Gena Linder Parker were killed in Linder’s home on July 1; Stephen Tyler, 48, and his 15-year-old daughter, Abby, were shot inside his furniture store on July 2. Abby Tyler survived the shooting but died from her injuries on Saturday.
“Every time you think there are no depths to which humankind can sink, there’s another depth,” said 7th Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy.
Gowdy was confident that Burris would have received the same penalty in a court of law — the death penalty — as he did in Monday’s shootout.
“The beauty of what happened this morning, there are no appeals,” he said.
Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators will trace the suspect’s recent activities and try to figure out if he has killed other people in other places.
Blanton said he hopes events in Gastonia have calmed the fears of the 54,000 people in Cherokee County, some 50 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina.