Globe and Mail

'Nice guy's' violent final act baffles police, friends

Man chased woman from house, witness says; split with wife only hours before shooting himself

Special to The Globe and Mail
Monday, June 26, 2000

Stayner, Ont. -- No one will ever know exactly why a Stayner husband and father took his life in a violent domestic tragedy.

David Rawlings, 34, who liked to play his guitar around the campfire, never had a violent incident in his marriage, had no history of mental illness and was known as a "nice guy" by his neighbours and close friends in this quiet town about 35 kilometres west of Barrie.

On Saturday, while his children slept, he shot himself to death shortly after his frightened wife fled from the couple's home at 1 a.m. The incident occurred just days after three children were left without a mother after another violent domestic incident.

Last week, Gillian Hadley, 35, ran from her Pickering house fearing for her life. Moments after her estranged husband, Ralph Hadley, hauled her back into the house, he shot her dead then turned the gun on himself.

In the Hadley case, the spotlight is on why the enraged husband, who had a history of violence, was allowed to walk free after a Crown attorney asked that he be jailed.

In the Stayner incident, police say they are baffled because there is no history of violence.

"This was absolutely out of character for this gentleman," said Detective Constable Michael Polson of the OPP Huronia West Detachment. "From every witness we have spoken to, this was a drastic change of character."

Det. Constable Polson said Mr. Rawlings, a worker at the Honda automobile manufacturing plant in Alliston, packed his belongings and left the family home on Friday. After midnight, he returned with a .22 calibre rifle, which Mr. Rawlings, who was a hunter, had acquired legally. His wife, Shelly, 33, fled the home and called police from a neighbour's house.

Members of the Tactical Rescue Unit and Emergency Response Unit evacuated the nearby houses and then surrounded the house. Officers found Mr. Rawlings's body on the back deck of the house, with a gunshot wound to his chest. They found two shell casings: one was from the fatal shot, but police don't know where the other bullet was fired.

Det. Constable Polson said the Rawlings's two daughters, aged 7 and 10, were awakened and taken to their mother.

A neighbour and close friend of the family's said he was in bed when he heard two gunshots pierce the quiet night.

Darren VanNiekerk, 18, said Mrs. Rawlings ran to the house in which he lives with his parents.

"She was pretty shaken up, but she wasn't hurt," he said. "He chased her out of the house."

Mr. VanNiekerk said he knew the couple was planning to separate, but there was never any violence.

"They used to come over for barbecues and campfires all the time," he said. "Dave was a really nice guy -- nothing would ever make you think something like this could ever happen."

Det. Constable Polson said he is waiting for results of a toxicology test done to determine whether there was any substance Mr. Rawlings might have taken that could explain his actions.

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