LAND O’LAKES — Samantha Keithley sent a series of disturbing text messages late Sunday, complaining about her husband to a longtime friend.
“Kirk has lost his mind Kristin,” she wrote in one text to friend Kristin Kellin. “He’s literally losing it. He’s been harassing me for the last 6 hours and I’ve asked him repeatedly to just leave me alone because I’m sick.”
The wife also wrote that she had tossed her ring outside, a reference to a wedding ring.
That was 11:50 p.m. The texts were not seen for hours. Sometime near midnight, authorities say, Samantha Keithley, 33, was fatally shot by her husband, Kirk Keithley, a 39-year-old Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy. He then turned the gun on himself and died by suicide.
“She was an amazing mother and an amazing friend and amazing wife,” Kellin said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “This is horrible.”
Pasco County deputies were called to the home at 17364 Terrazzo Way when a 14-year-old boy ran from the house and alerted 911 after hearing an argument and a gunshot, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said at an early morning news conference.
Once deputies arrived, they found the body of a woman, Nocco said. They went upstairs and found three other children safe.Then deputies found the husband in another room, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a preliminary investigation.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office had not previously been called to the home, Nocco said.
“Just pray for these kids,” he said. “It’s Monday morning, there’s a lot of people waking up, getting ready to go to school, and there’s four children trying to put their shattered lives together and figure out what just happened to them overnight.”
The Keithleys were married about six years, Kellin said. Together, they had Alivia, 4, and Avalyn, 2. Mark, 14, was Samantha’s by another father and Peyton, 7, was Kirk’s by another mother, Kellin said.
Kirk Keithley “was a quiet guy, but he wasn’t irrational,” Kellin said. “Everybody has problems, but not anything that would cause him to shoot her in the head.”
There were arguments here and there, said Samantha Keithley’s brother, Taylor Starling, but “normal relationship type of stuff,” nothing that suggested she was in peril. Otherwise, he said, she would have removed herself and her children.
“She was very smart, strong-willed and independent,” the brother said.
But at family dinners, Kirk Keithley acted like he was better than other people, Starling said. The husband was stingy with conversation, giving in-laws the idea that he didn’t want to get to know them.
Samantha Keithley was the opposite.
“She was just a very caring person,” her brother said.
"His sister had stepped into the mother role early, after their own mother died of cancer. Samantha Keithley was a teen but she looked after Starling, two years younger, and became the glue that the family needed.
In those teen years, she attended Bloomingdale High School. That’s where she met Kellin. The two graduated from there in 2003. Families and careers followed.
Samantha Keithley worked for a decade at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where she had recently been promoted into a management position.
She had also studied nursing and explored real estate, but money at the casino was good.
Her brother and Kellin said she seemed happy.
“She enjoyed life,” said Kellin. Sporting events. Travel. Concerts. “She had her best friends, five of them, myself included.”
The cream-colored, two-story home the couple shared is in the new Bexley subdivision, northeast of the Suncoast Parkway and State Road 54. Records show the two bought it in February for $322,000.
On Monday, it was ringed in crime scene tape.
As investigators hauled paper bags of evidence from the home, passers-by gawked at the activity. A man and woman crossed themselves and murmured a prayer as their dog led them away.
Clues to a family’s life filled the garage: a bag of golf clubs, a red wagon, plastic bins stacked on shelves. Matching white rocking chairs sat still on a porch; beside them, a tiny purple deck chair.
A gray Honda minivan and white Mercedes sedan were parked in the driveway.
Shortly after 8 a.m., two people wheeled out a red body bag on a stretcher and loaded it into a van parked at the curb. A second, identical bag followed about 15 minutes later.
Investigators closed the garage door and deputies rolled up the crime scene tape.
One next door neighbor told a reporter she didn’t know much about the family. She said few if any residents would, because everyone is so new to the neighborhood.
Joe Lupo, president of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, expressed grief over the death of a woman known to co-workers as Sam.
“Sam was part of our Hard Rock family for over 10 years,” he said. “She was truly loved by all who knew her. Our focus now is to support each other as we mourn this devastating loss. We are broken-hearted.”
Kirk Keithley was hired by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 and worked as a patrol deputy in the northeast area of the county. He had prior experience at the St. Petersburg Police Department.
In St. Petersburg, he received generally positive evaluations, his personnel file shows, although in 2008, an evaluator called his demeanor “austere” and recommended he seek out training on interpersonal skills.
A request by the to review his Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office personnel file is still pending.
The agency released a brief synopsis of his disciplinary history. It included a 2016 reprimand for “misuse of communications facilities” and a 2011 letter of counseling for an “avoidable traffic crash.”
In a statement, Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said he was disheartened, adding that domestic violence “has no place in our society.”
He said the agency’s employee assistance program is available for struggling co-workers, and, like the Pasco sheriff, he called for prayers for the couple’s four children.
“This is something that is impossible to comprehend for even the most seasoned person,” Chronister said. “Please keep them in your hearts as we all try to make our way through this tragedy.”
Pasco schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said a crisis team is on standby at the elementary and high school the children attend. Kellin said the children are staying with family.
She called Mark, the 14-year-old, a hero. He had raced to summon help to a home where three young children were still alive.
“I know he couldn’t save his mother,” she said, “but he saw her lying there dead and ran to get out of the house to call 911.”
Contact Howard Altman at email@example.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman. Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes