Dakota Theriot drove almost 16 hours through the night Saturday from Louisiana to Virginia, where he sought refuge with his grandmother after allegedly killing five people.
Two Richmond County deputies encountered the 21-year-old Theriot in the driveway of his grandmother’s home in the 14000 block of Historyland Highway in Warsaw, Virginia, just after 7 a.m. Central Time Sunday, Richmond County Sheriff Stephan Smith said. Theriot had been on the run close to 24 hours.
Smith said Theriot made several statements about the slayings of his parents, Elizabeth and Keith Theriot, both 50, his girlfriend, Summer Ernest, 20, and her brother and father, Tanner, 17, and Billy Ernest, 43, when he was taken into custody in the small town of about 1,400 people.
“He seemed tired, had a little bit of sleep deprivation, and there were some statements made, but at this time that’s part of the investigation,” Smith said Sunday morning in a telephone interview with The Advocate.
A man suspected of killing his parents and three other people -- including a girl he was dating -- has been captured after an intense manhunt …
Theriot did not directly contact the Virginia family as he was traveling to the East Coast, but the family members stayed in a hotel Sunday night in case he was trying to find them, the sheriff said.
The grandmother returned to her home Sunday morning with deputies to check on the house, and while they were there Theriot pulled into the driveway, Smith said.
Theriot pointed a firearm out of the vehicle's window and the Richmond County deputies sought cover but challenged Theriot, according to information on the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office Facebook page. Theriot dropped the firearm upon their commands and was taken into custody.
Authorities allege Theriot killed the Ernest family members in Livingston Parish early Saturday morning, then drove to Ascension Parish, where he killed his parents.
Though some who knew him said they were surprised by the accusations, others painted a portrait of a troubled young man.
Theriot had recently been kicked out of his parents' home due to an ongoing struggle with drugs, Kim Mincks told The Associated Press on Sunday. Mincks and another person, Jacob Chastant, lived in the Ascension Parish trailer with Keith and Elizabeth Theriot.
Mincks was in the house at the opposite end of the trailer when the shooting happened but didn't hear anything. Law enforcement officers came into her room Saturday morning and woke her.
"They said something terrible happened here. 'Get up, get dressed and walk outside,'" she recalled them saying.
Summer Ernest's family members said Theriot moved in with the Ernest family when he was kicked out of his own home. He and Summer Ernest had been dating about two weeks.
Mincks told The Associated Press that Theriot's relationship with his parents, especially his father, was strained. She recalled an incident in which Chastant had to pull Dakota Theriot off his parents during a physical altercation. Another time, she told the AP, Theriot pulled a gun on his mother.
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Two friends of Dakota Theriot’s said they knew him from when he lived in Richmond County, Virginia. They said they went to middle school and early high school together, before he moved back to Louisiana around 10th grade.
“I still can’t process it because it’s not Dakota, it’s not the Dakota I was in high school with,” Yasmeen Pugh, 22, said in a telephone interview with The Advocate from Virginia. “He did get a little lost in life, he did go down the wrong path for a little bit … but it just doesn’t add up. … It seems unbelievable.”
Pugh said she knew Theriot had used drugs and was in some trouble with the law, and she was aware of some family and personal struggles, but didn't know many details. She said he had always been a good friend to her.
In Livingston Parish, P.J. Hays, a relative of the Ernest family victims, said Saturday that the family knew little about Theriot when he and Summer began dating.
“He’d only been in the picture with Summer about two weeks, the family just met him for the first time last weekend at a family birthday party,” Hays said.
Hays wasn’t at the party so he hadn’t met Theriot, but he had heard of the boy his cousin began dating after recently breaking up with a longtime boyfriend.
Hays described the Ernests as “a really good Christian family;" the grandmother posts on Facebook each night reminding them all to pray before going to sleep.
“For this boy to come in and everyone knows he’s kind of off (is hard to imagine,)” Hays said. “He just came into the picture, what we know of him is what we’ve seen on his Facebook page since then. We’re a close-knit family … we don’t have any idea why this happened."
Two children — a 7-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy — were home at the time of the Livingston Parish killings but were able to escape. Hays said Billy Ernest's wife Kacee and another child were not home when the shooting happened.
Smith said that when Theriot was found in Virginia, he was still driving the gray Dodge pickup he stole from Billy Ernest’s home after the triple shooting.
Authorities are continuing to piece together the timeline of the spree, including interviewing Theriot about his version of events, said Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Lori Steele.
"What happened in between killings and when we were called to the scene is something we hope to detail in the days ahead," she said.
Authorities are beginning extradition proceedings to return Theriot to Louisiana, where he faces five counts of first-degree murder, illegal use of a weapon, and home invasion.
Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said if Theriot waives extradition, he should be back this week. But if he contests it, the process could take a few weeks, because Louisiana would have to produce a governor's warrant, and Theriot would get a brief hearing in Virginia.
Perrilloux said Theriot will be prosecuted in both Livingston and Ascension parishes, and he will be entitled to a trial in each.
"It’s going to require some coordination between the two jurisdictions. But in theory, they could both proceed simultaneously," Perrilloux said.
Perrilloux said it is too soon to say whether this will be a death penalty case.
"It’s just crazy. It’s just hard to imagine that peoples lives were fairly normal one day and turned upside down a few hours later,” Perrilloux said.
Advocate staff reporter Grace Toohey contributed to this report.