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.