Mari A. Schaefer, Chris Palmer, Michaelle Bond, Inquirer Staff Writers
Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 7:04 AM
The toll from one of the deadliest rampages in the region's history grew to seven Tuesday when Bradley W. Stone, the Iraq war veteran suspected of killing his former wife and five of her family members, was found dead in woods in Pennsburg, officials said.
After an intensive manhunt that included house-to-house searches, even rummaging through trash bins, police found Stone's body about a half-mile from his home. He evidently died of self-inflicted cutting wounds, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said.
Officials did not know how long Stone had been dead.
The discovery ended a 32-hour hunt that involved police and SWAT teams from Lansdale to Doylestown, terrorized neighborhoods, and disrupted school for thousands of students in a normally tranquil corner of the region.
Stone, 35, was an ex-Marine who served for a few months in Iraq in 2008 and later told a Montgomery County Court judge that he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. In recent years, he had been involved in a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife - the closest thing to an explanation investigators could offer for his predawn killing spree Monday.
At a Tuesday afternoon briefing, officials released fresh and frightening details of the killings, which took place within 90 minutes. They ended at the Harleysville residence of Stone's ex-wife, Nicole Stone, and their daughters, 5-year-old Kayla and 8-year-old Shannon.
An affidavit of probable cause released by prosecutors quoted neighbor Ashley Deane as saying that shortly before 5 a.m. Monday, she heard the shattering of glass, a loud bang, and the girls yelling, "Mommy, Mommy, no!" Deane then heard a man's voice say: "We have to leave now."
After driving away, Stone allegedly left the children with a male neighbor in Pennsburg, asking him to take them to their stepmother, Stone's wife.
On Tuesday, Ferman said the girls were in protective custody.
The attacks were clearly premeditated, the prosecutor said. By the time he made his last stop, in Harleysville, according to investigators, Stone had killed those who could have challenged his custody rights.
The other victims were Nicole Stone's mother, Joanne T. Gilbert, 57 - who a relative said had recently filed papers to gain custody of the girls - and her grandmother, Patricia Hill, 75. Both were found dead in their Lansdale home.
The first victims, the affidavit said, were Nicole Stone's relatives in Souderton: her sister, Patricia Flick; Flick's husband, Aaron; and their 14-year-old daughter, Nina.
The girl was the only victim who was not shot. According to the affidavit, she was attacked in her bed and had "massive blunt force and cutting or lacerating injuries to her face and skull."
Stone also attacked but did not succeed in killing her brother, Anthony Flick, 17, who was injured trying to defend his sister, Ferman said.
Anthony Flick remained hospitalized Tuesday in very serious but stable condition at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with stab wounds.
According to records, Stone owned at least two handguns - a Heckler & Koch .40-caliber and a Beretta 9mm. The larger weapon was recovered at Nicole Stone's home; .40-caliber shell casings were found at the scene of the Lansdale shootings.
After finalizing their divorce two years ago, Stone had remarried, and his ex-wife was engaged, according to friends and relatives.
Ferman said the custody battle for their girls seemed to be the motive for the attacks. Early this month, Stone filed an emergency motion in County Court seeking custody; it had not been ruled upon.
Nicole Stone's mother recently filed to gain custody, according to Nicole's aunt Connie McGaughey.
Unlike any in the county recent years, the manhunt after the killings virtually paralyzed parts of the area. For more than a day, heavily armed officers and SWAT teams roamed neighborhoods, and residents and school districts were told to bolt their doors.
After reports of potential sightings of Stone near Doylestown on Monday night, the Central Bucks School District, one of the largest in the state, gave students the option of staying home Tuesday.
For a time, investigators believed Stone was barricaded in one of the houses where the shootings occurred, Ferman said.
Officers had also thoroughly searched the area around his Pennsburg home, but to no avail. On Tuesday, officers in the area could still be heard calling, "Come out with your hands up."
It was not known when Stone fled to the woods, but Pennsburg resident Tammy Brazuk said that on Tuesday morning, her dogs were "going crazy" and kept looking toward the woods where Stone was found.
Another neighbor, Pamela Slotter, said she had some sympathy for Stone.
"It's so sad," she said. "I just feel so bad that he felt there were no other options."
Stone had told a judge he was fully disabled and taking medication as part of mental-health treatment. He had been arrested three times on drunken-driving charges.
Ferman said the episode had shaken normally quiet neighborhoods and "really shattered the tranquillity and peace of the community."