Family members of two of the shooting victims allegedly killed by Ryan Sharpe say they don’t know why their loved ones would have been targeted. They have no reason to believe the men gunned down in their yards knew Sharpe.
Their paths may have crossed in the rural community where they all lived. Sharpe did some plumbing work for a cousin of 47-year-old Buck Hornsby, the only victim to survive. But Hornsby himself says he doesn't know Sharpe. It's unclear whether 48-year-old Brad DeFranceschi, a Boy Scout ranger killed in front of his home Monday, knew the man accused of shooting him in his front yard.
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Three of the victims were shot near the side of a road while doing activities alongside a main thoroughfare in their rural community — exercising, weed eating and doing yard work. But the first victim, 62-year-old Thomas Bass, was on his own property and not visible from a public roadway, requiring a shooter to seek him out. Three of the shootings were in the Bluff Creek areas of East Feliciana Parish, while 66-year-old Carroll Breeden was just over the parish line in Pride.
Family of the shooting victims, in addition to Sharpe’s own family and friends, are struggling to understand what could have motivated him to allegedly partake in a seemingly random shooting spree over three months that terrorized the community he lived in.
Law enforcement are refusing to comment on Sharpe’s possible motives, and have stopped short of identifying him as a “serial killer.”
A police report filed with his arrest in Breeden's slaying does not specify how Sharpe became a suspect for the regional task force looking at the shootings. When interviewed by detectives Wednesday evening, the report says he confessed to the three homicides and one non-fatal shooting.
With Sharpe's capture, the families, who were fearing for their safety, are breathing a sigh of relief.
Joyce Bass found her brother-in-law dead in a puddle of blood near his La. 63 driveway on July 8. She worried that officials were never going to find the person who killed Thomas Bass, the man she's lived next door to for the last 40 years, the man who had taken care of her after her husband died last year.
"We're so relieved," Joyce Bass, 68, said. "(I've) been living like a hostage."
For the last three months Joyce Bass wouldn't walk to the road to get her mail, or take out her trash, or even sit on her back porch. But since the arrest of 36-year-old Ryan Sharpe, she said she can finally rest easy.
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Thomas Bass' great nephew Cameron Bass had been checking up on Joyce Bass, helping with her mail, trash and yard. Since the attack on his great uncle, he said he's carried a gun on him while mowing grass — something he didn't do before.
The Basses didn't know that Sharpe had ever visited Thomas Bass' house to do any plumbing work, but they couldn't be sure because he lived alone.
Cameron Bass said he'd met Ryan Sharpe a few times at a local restaurant and thought he'd always seemed like a decent fellow, but he now believes he is pure evil.
Stephanie Breeden, Carroll Breeden's daughter-in-law, said as far as she knows, her family did not know Sharpe or his extended family.
"I can only imagine someone who would do something like that would have some kind of mental illness, but there's absolutely nothing I have to go by to say for sure one way or another," she said.
Breeden was a well-known former BREC commissioner. He was killed Sept. 19 as he sprayed weeds by the road in front of his Pride home.
Buck Hornsby, the sole surviving victim of the shooting spree, said he doesn't remember ever meeting Sharpe; however, he does know Sharpe did plumbing work recently for a cousin down the road.
“I’m glad he got caught and I hope they prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law — I’m hoping for the death penalty,” Hornsby said. “I’m just thankful no one else was killed and want to give 100 percent condolences to the victims’ families.”
Jason Hornsby, Buck Hornsby's cousin, said Sharpe seemed like a normal guy. Sharpe visited his house less than a dozen times, using the family’s access code to enter their property as recently as last week when he helped to install an outdoor kitchen.
“He was supposed to come over this past weekend and pick up his last (payment), but he never showed up,” Jason Hornsby said in disbelief. “I never would have imagined anything like this. He seemed like just your typical country guy. … Looking back, it scares me — just like, man, I exposed my family to that. I put them in danger.”
Buck Hornsby’s daughter, Bailey Hornsby, 23, also said she hopes for some answers soon. "I'm just trying to figure out this dude's thought process," she said. "This is just so weird — it's freaking nuts."
Family and friends of Sharpe said there were no tell-tale signs that something was amiss. Several people who knew Sharpe, interviewed by The Advocate, said they had been in contact with him recently and detected no changes in his behavior.
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Sharpe, they said, was quiet, but still social. He was a "country boy" who wore cowboy boots and tank tops. He liked to drink beer and hunt rabbits with his friends. A master plumber, Sharpe was busy with jobs in Central last year after floods devastated his home town.
Many of his friends and family members followed the local reports in recent months of the random shootings targeting their quiet community and were shocked to learn Sharpe had confessed to the crimes.
Sharpe's own father, Bill Sharpe, a former Department of Public Safety police officer, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that he was hoping law enforcement had found their big break in the case.
"I'm in total shock," Bill Sharpe told The Advocate a day after learning his son had been arrested. "We were close, I didn't see him everyday, but we talked occasionally, and I kept up with him. But this is a total shock."
Bill Sharpe said Thursday morning he had yet to talk to his son or see him since the arrest.
"I'm in the dark," he said. "It's totally out of character for him."
Sharpe grew up in Central and went to Central High School. As a teen, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of simple battery and marijuana possession. In his early 20s, he bought 6 acres of land in Clinton where he built a house. He had 10 hunting dogs and raised deer.
"He was a beer-drinking, country boy, a laid-back guy with not a care in the world," said Casey Patterson, who attended Central High School with him.
Patterson, a contractor, hired Sharpe after the Baton Rouge floods last year to do plumbing work on about 10 houses being rebuilt. They would occasionally go on rabbit hunting trips with friends, and once took a trip to the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, for a mutual friend's bachelor party.
"The guy was out of his element. We went to a club and he had a tank top on at the Beau Rivage," Patterson recalled, adding that Sharpe was refused at the door of a night club and ended up leaving to drink at a bar by himself. "He said, 'what the F do you mean? It's a brand new tank top.' He was as country as it gets."
Sharpe never married nor had kids, but friends and neighbors said he had a live-in girlfriend.
R.J. Kent, 22, lives down the street from Sharpe and used to hang out at his house with the son of Sharpe's ex-girlfriend.
Kent said he even stayed at Sharpe’s house sometimes and described him as a quiet, polite man.
“He always had friends. He had a big group of people who would rabbit hunt with him. Every time I was over there he would have somebody over there with him," Kent said. "I just don’t have the words for it because he wasn’t that bad of a guy. It just goes to show how well do you really know people.”
He worked steadily as a plumber and owned his own business called Sharpe Plumbing where he maintained a steady stream of work.
During the Baton Rouge floods, Sharpe had as many as 50 houses he was working to repair, said Mitch Waller, a friend of Sharpe's who lives in Clinton. Waller, who owns a sewer company which employed Sharpe several years ago, said as recently as a month ago Sharpe came by his house to drink beer with some friends.
Waller said Sharpe was on his way to being a fairly successful businessman and had no obvious financial issues or debts.
"He went into business for himself. He became a master plumber, which is not easy to do, and he had just bought a bunch of brand new equipment from the flood," he said. "He was on his way to being very successful."
Staff writer Emma Discher contributed to this report.