Ralph Riley breathed heavily as he started speaking to the Pasco County 911 operator. But in a measured, matter-of-fact voice, he got right to the point:
"I just killed my wife. I'm next."
The 79-year-old man said he couldn't continue taking care of his 74-year-old wife, Bernice, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He, too, was ill. Last year he was hospitalized for heart and respiratory problems, authorities say.
"We're both in so bad of shape I can't take care of her anymore," he told a sheriff's dispatcher who picked up the call when it was transferred from 911.
Shortly before making that call early Thursday morning, Riley shot his wife in the head with a .38-caliber revolver as she lay in bed, authorities say. He called 911 at 4:24 a.m. to report the killing _ and to say he was about to kill himself.
He gave detailed instructions on who authorities should notify and said his front door would be left unlocked for police. Then, starting to sound impatient, he cut off the dispatcher's questioning by saying, "Thank you very much."
After he hung up, Riley sat on the floor by the bed, put the revolver to his own head and pulled the trigger, authorities say.
Ten minutes later, Pasco deputies arrived at the fog-shrouded home in the Lake Padgett Estates subdivision.
Deputies entered the unlocked house and found the gun and both bodies in the master bedroom, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers.
The Rileys had moved into the light brown house at 23552 Bellaire Loop in Land O'Lakes just a few weeks ago after living in the Tampa area since 1973. Pasco County records show they signed the title for the Land O'Lakes house Jan. 15.
Riley, a retired home builder and engineer, turned to real estate agent Bob Larson to help him sell a home in Hillsborough County and to find a smaller house in south Pasco County.
The house in Lake Padgett Estates was the first Larson showed Riley. Last year, it was on the market for $120,000, Larson said. But in January, the price was lowered to $96,000, and Riley bought it.
"It was the first one he looked at, and that was it," Larson said Thursday.
Riley was ill the day of the closing, so Larson and a notary public went to the Rileys' home in Lutz so the deed could be signed.
Larson knew the Rileys only a short time, he said, but they were easy to like.
"They were so nice," Larson said. "Sometimes in a lifetime you run across someone you instantly like. That's the way this couple was."
While Larson helped him move into the new home, Riley showed him a bed he was about to give to charity. Larson told Riley he needed a bed and offered to buy Riley's. But Riley wouldn't hear of it. He gave the bed to Larson.
"(Ralph) was the nicest guy," Larson said. "But they were both in ill health."
Larson recalled that at one point during their brief acquaintance, Riley talked of death and of his own despair. "He was a little bit despondent," Larson said. "He felt that he might not live very much longer."
Riley's son, Ralph Jr., of Point Pleasant, N.J., learned of the apparent murder-suicide of his parents early Thursday morning and flew to Florida.
When reached at the Land O'Lakes home Thursday night, the younger Riley declined to comment except to say that his parents both had been very sick.
Teresa Yates, who lives in the Lutz neighborhood the Rileys left last month, said she has fond memories of the couple.
The Rileys lived in a home on Candle Place about two years, Yates said. During that time, Riley occasionally came over to help with electrical work at the Yates house.
The Rileys' mixed-breed collie died shortly after they moved to Lutz from Carrollwood. But Bernice kept buying dog biscuits and giving them to Yates' dogs.
"They were wonderful, nice people," Yates said Thursday evening. "I was very, very shocked to hear what happened. He must have been so desperate, knowing she was so sick and he was so sick. My heart really goes out to the family."
Dominick DePetrillo, founder and executive director of the Alzheimer's Association of West Central Florida, said the deaths were tragic and devastating, and he urged care-givers for Alzheimer's victims to seek help.
"It's a really sad situation," he said. "One thing many people don't understand is the amount of stress and strain put on a care-giver. The victim often is not as bad off as the care-giver, because they really don't know what's going on."
The Alzheimer's association, as well as other area agencies, offer support groups and respite care for victims so care-givers can take a break from the stress.
"I feel that we've given out so many newspaper articles, been on radio, cable TV, but it seems like we just can't reach everybody," DePetrillo said. "I don't know what the answer is. I don't even know if there is an answer. But it's devastating when something like this happens."
Riley could have received respite care and counseling from an Alzheimer's support group, said John Sniezak, chief executive of Community Aging and Retirement Services and chapter president of the Alzheimer's association.
Sniezak didn't want to judge Riley too harshly, considering that Riley was suffering from heart and respiratory problems and seemed desperate because both he and his wife were so ill:
"There's no way that we can determine what we ourselves might do in that situation."
Alzheimer's Association of West Central Florida
Serves Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties
Neighborly Senior Services
Greater Tampa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association
Nursing Home Hotline
Community Aging and Retirement Services Inc.
West Pasco: (813) 862-9291
Land O'Lakes: (813) 996-6509
Dade City/Zephyrhills: (904) 567-4216
Transcript of the call that Ralph Riley of Land O'Lakes made to 911 at 4:24 a.m. Thursday:
911: This is 911. What is your emergency?
Riley: I just killed my wife. I'm next. .
. My name is Ralph (blanked out).
911: Sir, stay on the line, I'll connect you to the Sheriff's Department. Stay on the line, sir.
Riley: Hurry up. I'm almost done.
Pasco Sheriff's Office: Sheriff's Office operator 43. What's your emergency?
Riley: I just killed my wife, and I'm next. Please don't interrupt.
Sheriff's Office: Sir. What is your name?
Riley: My name is (blanked out: He apparently gives his name, address and directions to his house).
Sheriff's Office: Okay. Could you give me a cross street?
Riley: (Partly blanked out; he's seems to be giving directions.)
Riley: Please listen. I'm going to try to call (blanked out; apparently the name of a friend). He'll handle everything. He knows who to call. And he can take care of the house until my people get here.
Sheriff's Office: What do you mean, "your people?"
Riley: My son.
Sheriff's Office: Is your telephone number (blanked out)?
Riley: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.
Sheriff's Office: Could you spell the last name for me?
Riley: I can't. (Blanked out.)
Sheriff's Office: Okay. And what city is this in?
Riley: Land O'Lakes. (blanked out) . . . He knows where the keys are and everything, and he can handle it until my son gets here. He'll take charge of the house. Please call him. His telephone number at his home is (blanked out).
Sheriff's Office: Okay. Why do you say you just killed your wife?
Riley: We're both in so bad of shape, I can't take care of her anymore. And she would be real bad, ah, ah. The front door is left open. Thank you very much, goodbye.
Sheriff's Office: Sir. Okay, sir? How did you do this?
Riley: I done it with a gun I had. Thank you very much.
Sheriff's Office: Sir, do you have . . .
Riley: (hangs up).