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Police Say Man Confessed to Killing Daughter, Grandson

Violence: Claude Wright of Sylmar shot himself, but survived. Family members tell pastor they have no idea what triggered the rampage.

July 14, 2001|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moments after he allegedly shot his teenage daughter and grandson, Claude Wright called his wife at work and told her to come home right away. By the time she arrived, her distraught husband had already shot himself in the head, the couple's pastor said Friday.

Wright, 60, an Air Force veteran, confessed to killing his daughter Elizabeth--a 19-year-old college student home on summer break--and his 8-year-old grandson Kyle, Los Angeles Police Det. Frank Bishop said. Wright remained hospitalized under police guard Friday.

Police and family members are still searching for an explanation of what triggered Thursday's attack. Detectives said Wright had no history of domestic violence, but described him as depressed. Neighbors recalled an angry man who was often heard shouting at his young grandson. And Wright's wife and surviving daughter Christa--the dead boy's mother--told their pastor they had no idea what prompted the violence.

"There was absolutely no indication that anything was wrong," said Msgr. Peter Amy, pastor of St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar. "He just snapped."

On the morning of the slayings, Wright was planning a trip to the bank to make some deposits as his wife, Helen, left for work, Amy said. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary on the sunny street where the couple lived, a middle-class Sylmar neighborhood dotted with pine trees and bougainvillea.

Kyle, a cheerful boy who liked to skateboard, had been living with his grandparents for the last few years, according to Amy. The boy's mother lives in North Hollywood and visited him frequently.

But a few hours after the child's grandmother left for work Thursday, she returned home to a horrific scene: Her younger daughter and the little boy had been shot in the upper body. Her husband--still conscious, still clutching a handgun--had a gunshot wound to the head. She pulled the gun from his hand, Amy said, and called 911. Police initially handcuffed Helen Wright and took her to the police station.

"At the time, she was in the residence and she was the only person we saw [who hadn't been shot]," Bishop said. But police eliminated her as a suspect.

Several neighbors said Claude Wright was a bad-tempered man who walked with a limp and loved smoking cigars. One recalled a night several years ago when Wright, incensed by a group of young men playing music outside, burst out of his house and fired a gunshot into the air. But Amy said Wright was a good man whose anger--apparently fueled by a leg injury that left him disabled--sometimes got the better of him.

"Claude did have a short fuse," the pastor acknowledged, "but he always got over it right away."

The slayings occurred a day after another burst of domestic violence claimed two lives on the other side of the San Fernando Valley. In that case, police believe that a 67-year-old Woodland Hills woman shot and killed her husband before killing herself.

The Wright case appears to be another instance of murder-suicide, detectives said, although Wright survived.

"It's domestic violence," Bishop said. "He unfortunately chose to take out his aggressions on his daughter and grandson."

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