Pitchfork Killings Leave Father Stunned

ByBrian Melley

M E R C E D, Calif., Aug. 25, 2000 -- 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, hequickly found out it wasn’t at a popular coffee shop in hishometown.

“Guys twice my size were breaking down and crying,” Carpentersaid Thursday. “They just can’t believe it.”

Beyond the waves of friends and family members who visited thehospital, there was a community grieving over a seemingly randomact of violence against his family while he was working as abuilder and his wife, Tephanie Carpenter, 34, was taking her car tothe garage to get the brakes serviced.

The security of a life on the rural outskirts of the city 60miles north of Fresno had been shattered when a stranger broke intohis farmhouse Wednesday, terrorized his five children and stabbedtwo of them to death before being shot and killed by sheriff’sdeputies.

Now Carpenter, his eyes red from crying and lack of sleep, wastrying to figure out why it happened and how he would move forwardwith his wife and three surviving daughters, one of whom was stillrecovering from stab wounds.

“It’s such a shock,” Carpenter said. “You keep pinchingyourself. I got to wake up.”

Investigators were still baffled by what led 27-year-oldJonathon David Bruce on such a violent rampage. They knew of noconnection between the family and the attacker, who was identifiedthrough fingerprint records from a 1999 arrest for being under theinfluence of methamphetamine and fighting with police.

‘Very, Very Bizarre … ’A woman who had lived near him said the former telemarketerhated children, but little else was clear.

“The whole thing is very, very bizarre,” said Merced CountySheriff Tom Sawyer, who thought he had seen everything in a 33-yearlaw enforcement career.

The terror began Wednesday morning when Jessica Carpenter, 14,awoke and saw a half-naked stranger in her living room, pulling hispants on.

He had pushed furniture against the walls of the house tobarricade himself and the children in.

Jessica, speaking at a news conference at a Merced hospital withher parents and sister Anna, slipped back into her bedroom, lockedthe 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 andsprinted to a neighbor’s house, cutting her bare feet on a coarsefarm 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 handswhen 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 andyelled, “Stop it!” When the attacker turned his attention toAshley, Anna and Vanessa ran down a hallway, pushing a bookshelfout of the way to get into a laundry room, where they lockedthemselves in.

The man came to the door and said, “Let me in, I’ll be nice toyou,” Anna said.

Vanessa, 11, helped her wounded sister get through a window andthey fled. They met up with Jessica, who was returning becausetheir closest neighbor wasn’t home. They told her what washappening and they went to another neighbor’s house.

“They could hear Ashley screaming as they were running, andthen 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 mybrother and sister with a pitchfork. You have to be careful, he’sgoing to kill them.”

When deputies arrived, they entered the house through a frontwindow and saw Bruce coming at them with the pitchfork.

“He was pointing it at them and going right after them, hewouldn’t stop,” said Assistant Sheriff Henry Strength. “They werehollering 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 thefloor, but he began to get up again with the pitchfork, promptingthe final blasts, Strength said.

Ashley and 7-year-old John William Carpenter were found dead intheir beds. The boy apparently had been asleep during the attack.

Before being evicted last month, Bruce lived in a duplex behindAnn Adams’ house in downtown Merced. Adams said the man frequentlyyelled at her three great-grandchildren and his girlfriend’schildren, who all played together.

‘He Just Sort Went Downhill’She said Bruce had worked part-time as a telemarketer, butmostly stayed up late at night and paced around the neighborhoodafter the girlfriend took her children and moved out.

“He just sort of went downhill,” Adams said. “He was justgetting angrier and angrier.”

John Carpenter said he hoped Ashley, who had boundless energyand loved horses and hiking and “had little black eyes that justsparkled” could be buried alongside her little brother, whom hedescribed as “mister calm, mister independent.”

Anna is healing, and Jessica and Vanessa weren’t physically hurtin the attack.

John Carpenter said the family had numerous offers to stay atother houses and he doesn’t plan to return anytime soon to theplace he built as a dream home on 10 acres.

“It’s just not the same,” he said. “Their lives will never bethe same. It’s amazing how one man can affect so many lives likethat.”

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