'Family man': Parkway shooting suspect's family, boss express shock
A day after 56-year-old Ralph Leon Jackson's arrest as the alleged assailant in the brutal Blue Ridge Parkway double shooting case, those who know him say they're struggling to believe the quiet man they know could have committed such a heinous crime.
"He was just such a nice guy, you just can't imagine him doing something like this," says a stunned Barbara Lambert, who, with her husband, co-owns Delmar's auto body repair shop in Staunton where Jackson worked for the past three years as a painter's assistant.
Lambert says that Jackson has been "a good worker" but that his schedule had become erratic due to serious health problems including advanced prostate cancer, for which he had recently received aggressive treatment including chemotherapy.
"We allowed him to work when he felt like it," she says. Apparently, Jackson was feeling well enough on Tuesday morning, April 6, when he appeared for work just 12 hours after allegedly shooting 18-year-old Fluvanna County High School senior Christina Floyd and 27-year-old WNRN DJ Tim Davis, who tumbled over the edge of the Rock Creek Overlook and landed approximately 150 feet below.
During the April 5 attack, Floyd fought back so tenaciously that she broke fingers, ripped her assailant's shirt off, and may have even wrested the shotgun away from her attacker before he pushed her over the edge of the overlook and hurled rocks down upon her. Davis was hospitalized in critical condition but died Friday, April 9 at UVA Hospital.
In a press conference announcing Jackson's arrest, Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher confirmed that as Floyd fought her assailant, she asked, "Why are you doing this?" His alleged response: "Because I'm crazy."
Floyd suffered two skull fractures and a collapsed lung before she managed to scramble up to the road, where passersby picked her up and whisked her to safety. While she has not responded to the Hook's request for an interview, she has expressed gratitude on Facebook and explained her drive to survive.
"All I could think of was my family and friends getting the news of my death, and that made me get up and fight real quick," she wrote on a friend's wall.
Despite the appearance of redness on Jackson's neck in his mugshot, Lambert says she noticed nothing unusual when Jackson arrived at work at 8am on April 6. She also didn't register any suspicion when Jackson mentioned the shooting.
"He talked about seeing the [rescuers] lights" from his house, she says. "He said, 'They think it was a park ranger.'"
The two-bedroom rental home Jackson shared with his wife and adult daughter at 1880 Howardsville Turnpike, also known as State Highway 610, lies three miles, as the crow flies, from the scene of the ambush–- just over 10 miles by car.
"We just thought he was talking about it from an observation point of view," says Lambert, chilled by the notion that she may have been speaking to the shooter in what's been described as a random act of violence.
Lambert isn't the only one surprised by Jackson's arrest. "He was sort of a family man–- he stayed around home most of the time," says Jackson's oldest brother, Lonnie, who lives in Craigsville and last saw Jackson at Christmas.
The second of six boys, Jackson was born just 10 months and 15 days after big brother Lonnie, who suffered from health issues as an infant and required intensive care. Two babies so close in age was too much for his late mother, Lonnie says, so the infant Leon Jackson was sent to live with his grandparents.
By the time four other brothers were born, Lonnie had recovered sufficiently for his mother to handle their care, but Jackson never returned home. Instead, he moved to West Virgina, seeing his five brothers–- one of whom died at age 10 after being hit by a drunk driver–- only occasionally during summer or holiday visits. It was a pattern that continued into adulthood.
Although he didn't see Jackson frequently, another Jackson brother, Ronnie, reached at the home of their ailing father, says there was no reason to believe Jackson, who loved hunting, was a threat to humans.
"He wasn't a bad person. He had no history of violence," says Ronnie, who doesn't believe Jackson had an issue with drinking or drugs. Like Lambert, both Ronnie and Lonnie wonder if Jackson's health problems–- which include a heart attack several years ago for which, Lonnie says, he remained medicated–- might have contributed to the alleged act. Indeed, some research suggests that chemotherapy can cause brain damage and even dementia.
Whatever the cause, "I'm sorry for everyone involved," says Lonnie. As investigators interrogate Jackson, some are hoping his arrest may help solve other cases, in particular last August's shooting deaths of two Virginia Tech students in a campground in the Jefferson National Forest. Investigators from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, says Sheriff's spokesperson Lt. Brian Wright, will be traveling to Augusta to compare notes.
"Early indications are that they're not expecting there to be a connection," says Wright, "but they want to make sure they at least look into it."
As for Jackson, currently charged with attempted capital murder, he will remain behind bars. In an April 8 hearing, County Judge John Quigley denied Jackson's request for bond; and according to the Waynesboro News Virginian, Jackson then defiantly told the judge, "Thank you very little."
Lambert says that as she helps her employees deal with the trauma of a coworker's arrest, she's relieved that the carnage has stopped.
"It's frightening to think what could have happened if he'd walked in here with the shotgun," she says. "We have people in and out all the time."
–updated for print publication 12:51pm, Tuesday, April 13