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Police say Louisa man opened fire on his family members

 Women embrace yesterday at the Louisa home where three people were killed.
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Date published: 8/24/2010


Other than the presence of police tape, yesterday afternoon appeared to be a normal day along Twigg Drive, a quiet dirt road in rural Louisa County.

Several people were gathered outside a weathered mobile home, and a little girl was riding a bike in circles around the yard.

There was little to indicate yesterday that the day before, this had been the site of what Louisa Sheriff Ashland Fortune called the largest mass shooting in the county in 20 years. It left three men and a dog dead and four others shot. All were related.

There was little police presence, but three caged pit bulls and an aggressive smaller dog were enough to keep away reporters who attempted to walk up to the property.

Fortune said a family dispute over the land Sunday is what led to the bloody violence.

Sheriff's deputies had been called to the property nearly two-dozen times since 2001--including once earlier in the day Sunday--before Charles P. "Zeke" Steadman Sponaugle Sr., 52, opened fire on members of his family, Fortune said.

Sponaugle then fired at two deputies--including a K-9 officer who released his dog.

The deputies returned fire. Sponaugle was fatally wounded and his dog--which he had turned on the officers--also died in the shooting.

The deputies and the police dog were uninjured, Fortune said.

Deputies had been called out to the property around 2 p.m. Sunday, and an argument was resolved. But they were called again around 4:45 p.m. after Sponaugle opened fire with a .22-caliber semiautomatic target pistol, said Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.

Sponaugle shot and killed his son, Charles P. Steadman Jr., 29, and nephew Mark A. Cooper Jr., 23. Also shot were Sponaugle's sister, Kitty L. Cooper, 41; brother-in-law Mark A. Cooper Sr., 45; and nephews Gerald A. Steadman Jr., 26, and Jason C. Steadman, 27.

Jason Steadman was flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Gerald Steadman was held overnight for observation, and Kitty and Mark Cooper Sr. were treated and released.

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