WARSAW, Va. — Dakota Theriot sought familiar surroundings after allegedly killing five people, including his parents and his girlfriend, but following an all-night drive to his grandmother’s house he finds himself in a county jail pending extradition to Louisiana.

It was another failure for the 21-year-old.

Theriot was married briefly in December 2015, but the couple separated after 11 days and divorced the next year. According to court records, his wife said Theriot had choked, punched and slapped her during their three-year relationship, and while drunk, he threw her through a window, breaking her wrist.

“He did have a lot of family drama,” said Kenny Hebert, the owner of Southshore Pools in St. Charles Parish, where Theriot worked for a short period of time cleaning pools.

A month later, military records show, Theriot signed up for basic training in the U.S. armed forces. He was out four months later. An Army spokesman said only that Theriot "was separated in May 2016 before completing training."

This past weekend, less than a month after being kicked out of his parents' home, sheriffs say, he killed three people near Walker and his parents near Gonzales, then fled for the rural Virginia coastal plains where he lived in his early teens.

According to investigators, Theriot killed his girlfriend Summer Ernest, 20; her father, Billy Ernest, 43; and her brother Tanner Ernest, 17; at their home north of Walker in Livingston Parish and then drove to Gonzales in Ascension Parish and killed his parents, Keith and Elizabeth Theriot, both 50.

Elizabeth Theriot, after her son was accused of violence against his wife, had testified at a court hearing on whether a St. Charles Parish judge should impose a protective order against him, but court records don't include what she said. Dakota Theriot wasn't charged, and the judge dissolved a temporary order of protection saying the wife had not proven her accusations. He imposed a joint injunction ordering both to have no contact with the other.


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After Saturday's killings, law officers in Virginia were tipped early on that the accused mass murderer was probably heading their way. But there is still no indication why Theriot snapped to the point of taking lives.

Cory Flannery, a friend of Theriot's from his time in Warsaw, a small town of about 1,500 in the Northern Neck of Virginia, said he remembers Theriot sitting on his couch eating cereal and smoking marijuana with him. While Flannery said Theriot had a temper, the shooting rampage on Saturday was still out of character for the person he knew.

Flannery said Theriot had smoked weed for years and was addicted to cigarettes as a middle-schooler but didn't know him to use hard drugs at the time. Though he was often in trouble, Flannery said, Theriot didn't seem violent or dangerous.

"I'm completely shocked," Flannery said Sunday in an interview with The Advocate. "I never thought he'd lose control."

Flannery said he wished his friend had reached out to him or anyone else for help.

"He knows I would have been there," Flannery said. "It just blows my mind, it doesn't seem real."

He last saw Theriot when he visited the area in 2017 and he seemed like his old self. Flannery described him as "clean-cut" and well-dressed, a far cry from the disheveled and wild-eyed mug shot taken Sunday morning.

"I did not recognize him," Flannery said. "It looks like he's out of his mind. … I don’t know if something snapped in him … or if he was on drugs.”

According to Virginia school records, Theriot transferred as a seventh-grader from the Fifth Ward Elementary School in Reserve, Louisiana, to the Richmond County School District in 2009. In October 2012, early in his sophomore year of high school, he moved back to Louisiana and transferred to Destrehan High School. 

St. Charles Parish Public Schools spokesperson Stevie Crovetto said Monday that Theriot was a student in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years but did not graduate.

Richmond County Superintendent James “Greg” Smith said Theriot was enrolled in his district’s alternative education program, which “would indicate some levels of classroom disruption or behavioral issues.”

Flannery said Theriot was kicked out of high school for cursing at teachers, and then later kicked out of the alternative school for throwing a desk and, again, using foul language.

After being notified that Theriot was likely heading back to the Northern Neck region of Virginia, the district began making security arrangements and considering how it would have operated schools Monday if he had not been caught, the superintendent said.

Theriot’s maternal grandparents served as his guardians during his time in Virginia, Smith said, and the accused killer came from a large and close-knit family “absolutely devastated” by the deaths.

“A good family, a very solid family, very well-known and respected family in the community. They have been members of this community for many years,” Smith said. “This was a tragedy, it really was.”

Hours after the killings, authorities had tracked Theriot onto Interstate 64 in central Virginia. From there, it took just a little bit of time and a little bit of luck to nab Theriot outside the two-story white frame house where his grandmother lives about two hours south of Washington, D.C.

“That’s him right there,” a deputy said while wrapping up a safety check at Theriot’s grandmother’s house outside Warsaw on Sunday morning, according to Richmond County Sheriff Stephan Smith.

Theriot’s grandmother, concerned with her safety, had spent Saturday night in a hotel.

"We started taking precautions then as far as keeping an eye on the houses he might be going to,” Sheriff Smith said. In Louisiana, Ascension Parish officials also said they checked on Theriot's paternal grandfather, who lives in St. Charles Parish area, and found him safe.

Once Theriot pulled into his grandmother’s driveway along the History Land Highway on Sunday morning, with a gun in his hand, his run toward freedom ended.

“The officers engaged him, gave him commands, he dropped the gun, got on his knees and he was arrested at that time,” the sheriff said.

He said he knew Theriot’s mother, Elizabeth, just from growing up in the small town just north of the Rappanhannock River but hadn’t seen Keith Theriot before and didn’t know anything about the son until Saturday.

Outside the grandmother’s home in Warsaw on Monday, about a half-dozen trucks were parked outside. A red-haired bearded man who appeared to be in his mid-30s opened the door but said the family “won’t be taking any questions” and declined to take a business card.

Local court records revealed little about the family: a certification as a notary public for one family member, a bank judgment and a series of child-support judgments worth about $8,600.

Louisiana officials planned to question Theriot in Virginia ahead of a Friday extradition hearing. Two large pickup trucks with Louisiana plates were parked near the Richmond County jail on Monday.

Advocate staff reporters Ellyn Couvillion and Caroline Grueskin contributed to this report. Grace Toohey and Emma Kennedy reported from Baton Rouge.


Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.