BRUNSWICK, Georgia – Rusty Toler Sr. took in people who were down on their luck, packing his mobile home with relatives and others who had lost their jobs or fallen on hard times.
It’s what good country folk do, says the manager of the park where Toler, his four children, two siblings and his daughter’s boyfriend were found slain. Ten people lived in the single-wide, 980-square-foot (99-sq. meter) trailer in coastal Georgia that cost Rusty Toler Sr. $405 a month.
Police have no suspects and have not said how the family died.
“They were very good people,” said Laura Davis, an aunt to Toler’s children. “They struggled but they had what they needed. They had a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.”
Police released the names and ages of the dead Tuesday, three days after the carnage was reported in a frantic 911 call by a relative who said he had returned from a night out and found his whole family dead.
“It’s just a shock,” said Gail Montgomery, who manages the New Hope Plantation mobile home park where Toler and his family lived. “They were just what I’d call good country folks. I don’t think any of them would hurt a fly.”
The victims included 44-year-old Toler and his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15.
Also killed were two of Toler’s siblings – Guy Heinze Sr., 45, and Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, as well as 30-year-old Joseph L. West, Chrissy Toler’s boyfriend. A ninth victim, whom police did not identify, remained in critical condition Tuesday.
Montgomery said the elder Toler had taken in his brother, a nephew, his daughter and her boyfriend because they had lost jobs and couldn’t find work. Montgomery said his daughter’s young child also lived with them and was the lone survivor.
Toler Sr. had worked for 20 years at plant that dries chemicals and food products located behind the mobile home park, but was laid off several months ago, said Kathy Clock, administrative assistant to the owner of the plant and New Hope Plantation.
Montgomery said Toler Sr. also did odd jobs for her, including groundskeeping and hauling trailers.
But he had too many family members living in the small mobile home and was told more than two months ago they would have to move.
“He had a big heart,” Montgomery said. “And you just don’t tell your family no.”
Toler Sr. received notice of eviction proceedings Aug. 13 and was to have been in court with the landlord Monday, two days after he was killed. But Montgomery said they had already come to an agreement – the family had found a new place and promised to move out by Sept. 8.
“Rusty took care of family,” Clock said. “If you needed a place to sleep, there was a place to sleep.”
Davis, the children’s aunt, said she had never known the family to have enemies, especially anyone who would want to kill them.
“I don’t think somebody did this because they’re mad at them,” Davis said. “I think this is just a senseless murder.”
Police have released little information about the case that has rocked this port city between Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla., saying they don’t want to jeopardize their investigation.
It was Heinze’s son, Guy Heinze Jr., 22, who told police he found the bodies after returning home Saturday morning.
A recording of a 12-minute emergency call has provided some of the only details about the crime.
Heinze Jr. could be heard on the call screaming, “My whole family’s dead!” and struggled to describe what he saw, at one point returning to the mobile home to find his cousin Michael, whom he said had Down syndrome, barely breathing.
“Michael’s alive, tell them to hurry!” Heinze Jr. yelled in the background as a maintenance man at the mobile home park spoke with a dispatcher. “He’s beat up! His face is smashed in!”
Michael Toler died Sunday at a hospital in Savannah.
Several hours after Heinze Jr. said he found the bodies, police arrested him on charges of drug possession, tampering with evidence and lying to a police officer. Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said he isn’t calling Heinze Jr. a suspect in the killings but isn’t ruling him out. Heinze’s attorney said he is distraught over the slayings and was not involved.
“My client believes the killer is still on the loose,” said the lawyer, Ron Harrison, who said Heinze Jr. is co-operating with police.
Heinze Jr. is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
A graveside service was tentatively set for the Tolers, Heinze and Falagan on Saturday, according to the Howard-Jones-Nobles Funeral Home. Details of West’s funeral were not immediately available.
“The only comfort I can draw from this is that Rusty did the best he could for his children,” Davis said. “And he’s in heaven now with his children.”
Associated Press writer Greg Bluestein in Atlanta contributed to this report.