Saturday, October 27, 2012

Police piecing together details of double deaths on Salem Avenue

Rebecca Dennis, who was found dead in her home Thursday evening, was "the most remarkable, lovable human being that I have ever met," a friend said.

The bedroom door was locked and everything was silent, telltale signs that the other side would only confirm the worst.

Marc Walker said he held his breath before he kicked in the door. The police officer with him signaled the go-ahead and what they found on the other side stopped him cold.

There was blood all over the rug in the master bedroom, and a 50-something man was sitting in a chair with a laptop on his legs, pressing a box cutter against his own neck. In the bathroom, the officer found 53-year-old Rebecca Marie Dennis lying dead on the floor with stab wounds to her body and a belt around her neck, police said.

Stunned, Walker, a friend of the victim, said he turned to the man in the chair.

“I kept telling him, ‘You didn’t do that, you didn’t do that!’ ” Walker recalled. “And he kept grunting and grunting.”

Walker said the man in the chair, a longtime acquaintance of Dennis who shared the town home until recently, pushed the box cutter harder against his neck.

The officer called for backup to the town home, located in the 1600 block of Salem Avenue Southwest, and then ordered the man to drop the box cutter.

He refused, prompting police to use a pepper-ball gun and then chemical agents to force the man to comply, said Aisha Johnson, police spokeswoman.

Walker said officers dragged the man out the back door of the town home. A medical crew took him to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where we was pronounced dead at 6:50 p.m.

Johnson said the officer was first called to the town home Thursday evening as a response to a well-being check. She said family members had grown concerned that Dennis would not open her bedroom door or answer her telephone.

Police declined to identify the man with the box cutter, but said they’re considering the incident a homicide-suicide.

As police detectives arrived at the scene Thursday to begin their investigation, neighbors gathered in the street just a few blocks from Hurt Park Elementary School. Some of them cried as they watched officers cordon off the area surrounding the home.

Walker, who said he only started dating Dennis on Sept. 3, said he stood with her family as they came to terms with the loss.

“She was the most remarkable, lovable human being that I have ever met,” he said.

Sitting in the living room of his northwest Roanoke house Friday afternoon, Walker shook his head as he thought about the sudden death, and the memories he made with Dennis.

If he thinks about it too much, Walker said, he begins to delve into a minefield of what-ifs. He said the man had agreed to move out of the town home that day.

“I was trying to tell Rebecca to not go home until I got off work,” he said. “She never made it back out that door, he was waiting for her.”

A trail of text messages he said he exchanged with Dennis showed signs of a happy woman, eager to explore the future and start fresh.

At 4:26 a.m. Thursday, the pair exchanged messages as they prepared for work. Walker said he works at Atlas Logistics in Salem. Dennis was a veteran employee at Hotel Roanoke.

“I think when he sees that u r behind what I have asked him to do he will take it more seriously,” read a 6:16 a.m. text message from Dennis. “I don’t want anything 2 happen 2 u bcuz of this situation.”

Walker paused from reading the texts and looked to the floor.

“This is killing me,” he said. “I just want other people to know just how beautiful she was. I know she has her wings, because she was an angel down on this earth.”

Mike Quonce, a spokesman for Hotel Roanoke, said Friday that Dennis started working at the hotel 17 years ago, when it reopened.

Quonce said she often took charge of the front desk, greeting customers and answering the telephone.

“She was loved by guests and by all of our employees,” he said. “Definitely a role model. For us, she was very much a bright face to see, always smiling.”

As Roanoke police continue their investigation, Johnson said the state medical examiner’s office will determine Dennis’ cause of death.

Police said the unidentified man is the only suspect in Dennis’ death, and that the incident likely started as a domestic dispute.

Dennis, a mother, left behind several children, including a 10-year-old daughter who is now living with the victim’s oldest son.

The Salem Avenue incident is the city’s eighth homicide of the year, a total that matches the city’s annual average over the past five years.

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