LAKELAND — With his mother and two brothers dead on the front porch, 13-year-old Nathan Bellar sprinted away as his father aimed the scope-mounted hunting rifle in his direction and started firing.
Troy Ryan Bellar tripped over a mountain bike in the garage, but deputies say Bellar, still in a homicidal rage, fired several .308-caliber rounds even after falling.
Then he gave up trying to kill his eldest son and shot himself in the head. This brought to a bloody end one of Polk County's most horrific cases of murder-suicide.
The violence began Sunday night at a quiet south Lakeland home.
Sheriff's spokesman Scott Wilder said Troy Bellar, 34, and his wife, Wendy Rene Bellar, 31, began to argue at their front door. She had their sons Ryan Patrick, 8, and Zack James, who would have turned 5 months Monday, and deputies say she was seeking sanctuary with Bellar's parents.
It appears that Nathan, whose full name is David Nathaniel Bellar, was not going with her. The seventh-grader is Troy Bellar's child by a previous marriage, and deputies think he was standing behind his father as the argument began.
Wendy Bellar had the baby in his car seat and her autistic 8-year-old at her side. Wilder said Troy Bellar went on a killing rampage with a hunting rifle, systematically shooting each of them in the head. Nathan dashed away through the garage, and made it to the safety of a neighbor's home, escaping his own murder.
Investigators responding to 2018 Creekbend Drive after the 9:30 p.m. shootings found the mother and children in the screened-in patio, the father dead in his front yard, the high-powered hunting rifle at his side.
"It was an absolutely gut-wrenching scene," said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, who called it one of the county's most "tragic (and) senseless" crimes. "To see that baby in the car seat, shot like that. … There is no satisfactory explanation and there never will be."
Deputies have yet to release a motive for the killings.
Judd said he thought the mother and children were trying to leave before the father's "absolutely selfish rampage," but said the sequence of the shooting is still under investigation.
"I can tell you this," Judd told news crews Sunday. "For whatever reason, this man tonight did the unthinkable."
In March, deputies had been called to the home when Troy Bellar alleged his wife hit and scratched him, and swung jeans at him. She was arrested and released. He was not injured.
Troy Bellar had his own record. In 1994, he was charged with aggravated assault, carrying a concealed weapon and retail theft. Police wrote he punched Publix employees with brass knuckles while trying to escape with stolen bottles of cough syrup. Court records show he was convicted of theft but no other charges. A woman named Mammie Kidd filed a petition against Bellar and several others in 2005 "for protection against repeat violence" but the request for an injunction was denied, court documents show.
Neighbors said Bellar and his family were quiet, reserved and new to the Creekbend subdivision. The couple had been married for a decade and closed on their home in 2007, court records show.
Troy Bellar worked as a handyman, neighbors said, pointing to his pickup trucks packed with a ladder and concrete in his driveway. Wendy Bellar homeschooled her two youngest children and studied English and secondary education at the University of South Florida.
Nathan Bellar, a student who plays in the band at Mulberry Middle School, was born to a Pinellas County woman, Wendy Ann Chappell. He is now in the care of extended family members living locally, said sheriff's spokesman Wilder.
"He was, as you might expect, emotional," he said. "He's a brave young man and was able to talk to detectives and help us with the situation."
Deputies on Monday said they had yet to speak with Chappell, who they say has a history of failing to pay child support.
Bellar fired more than 10 shots from a rifle designed to take down big game, deputies said. Neighbors said he owned other weapons, and bumper stickers on his truck included logos for the National Rifle Association, Glock pistols and a Confederate flag. Neighbors said he had offered to take them shooting.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386.