After a sleepless night mourning the
deaths of two children to a stranger with a pitchfork and no clear
motive, John Carpenter slipped out of the hospital and headed to
get some doughnuts.
If he thought there would be a place to escape his grief, he quickly found out it wasn’t at a popular coffee shop in his hometown.
“Guys twice my size were breaking down and crying,” Carpenter said Thursday. “They just can’t believe it.”
Beyond the waves of friends and family members who visited the hospital, there was a community grieving over a seemingly random act of violence against his family while he was working as a builder and his wife, Tephanie Carpenter, 34, was taking her car to the garage to get the brakes serviced.
The security of a life on the rural outskirts of the city 60 miles north of Fresno had been shattered when a stranger broke into his farmhouse Wednesday, terrorized his five children and stabbed two of them to death before being shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies.
Now Carpenter, his eyes red from crying and lack of sleep, was trying to figure out why it happened and how he would move forward with his wife and three surviving daughters, one of whom was still recovering from stab wounds.
“It’s such a shock,” Carpenter said. “You keep pinching yourself. I got to wake up.”
Investigators were still baffled by what led 27-year-old Jonathon David Bruce on such a violent rampage. They knew of no connection between the family and the attacker, who was identified through fingerprint records from a 1999 arrest for being under the influence of methamphetamine and fighting with police.
‘Very, Very Bizarre … ’ A woman who had lived near him said the former telemarketer hated children, but little else was clear.
“The whole thing is very, very bizarre,” said Merced County Sheriff Tom Sawyer, who thought he had seen everything in a 33-year law enforcement career.
The terror began Wednesday morning when Jessica Carpenter, 14, awoke and saw a half-naked stranger in her living room, pulling his pants on.
He had pushed furniture against the walls of the house to barricade himself and the children in.
Jessica, speaking at a news conference at a Merced hospital with her parents and sister Anna, slipped back into her bedroom, locked the door and tried to call police. The phone was dead.
The man began banging on her door and told her to let him in. When she heard a little cry, Jessica climbed out a window and sprinted to a neighbor’s house, cutting her bare feet on a coarse farm field along the way.
The stranger turned to another bedroom where he told Anna, 13, to lie down, then jabbed the pitchfork at her, cutting her hands when she tried to defend herself.
“He was saying all kinds of cuss words,” Anna said Thursday, her bandaged hands hugging a teddy bear. “He looked possessed.”
The youngest girl, Ashley, 9, had come in from another room and yelled, “Stop it!” When the attacker turned his attention to Ashley, Anna and Vanessa ran down a hallway, pushing a bookshelf out of the way to get into a laundry room, where they locked themselves in.
The man came to the door and said, “Let me in, I’ll be nice to you,” Anna said.
Vanessa, 11, helped her wounded sister get through a window and they fled. They met up with Jessica, who was returning because their closest neighbor wasn’t home. They told her what was happening and they went to another neighbor’s house.
“They could hear Ashley screaming as they were running, and then she went quiet,” the father said.
On her emotional call to the 911 dispatcher, Jessica said: “There’s somebody in my house who I don’t know. (He’s) stabbing my brother and sister with a pitchfork. You have to be careful, he’s going to kill them.”
When deputies arrived, they entered the house through a front window and saw Bruce coming at them with the pitchfork.
“He was pointing it at them and going right after them, he wouldn’t stop,” said Assistant Sheriff Henry Strength. “They were hollering at him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop.”
Deputies fired 16 rounds at Bruce, hitting him 13 times, Strength said. An initial series of shots knocked Bruce to the floor, but he began to get up again with the pitchfork, prompting the final blasts, Strength said.
Ashley and 7-year-old John William Carpenter were found dead in their beds. The boy apparently had been asleep during the attack.
Before being evicted last month, Bruce lived in a duplex behind Ann Adams’ house in downtown Merced. Adams said the man frequently yelled at her three great-grandchildren and his girlfriend’s children, who all played together.
‘He Just Sort Went Downhill’ She said Bruce had worked part-time as a telemarketer, but mostly stayed up late at night and paced around the neighborhood after the girlfriend took her children and moved out.
“He just sort of went downhill,” Adams said. “He was just getting angrier and angrier.”
John Carpenter said he hoped Ashley, who had boundless energy and loved horses and hiking and “had little black eyes that just sparkled” could be buried alongside her little brother, whom he described as “mister calm, mister independent.”
Anna is healing, and Jessica and Vanessa weren’t physically hurt in the attack.
John Carpenter said the family had numerous offers to stay at other houses and he doesn’t plan to return anytime soon to the place he built as a dream home on 10 acres.
“It’s just not the same,” he said. “Their lives will never be the same. It’s amazing how one man can affect so many lives like that.”