CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The grandparents of a 20-year-old man accused of killing his father and brother say they believe he opened fire because he was “ashamed” to tell his family he got kicked out of college.
Karen and Rex Toothman say Zachary Toothman graduated from Hickory High School in 2014 with top honors. He played clarinet for the school’s band. His smarts and musical talents, they say, earned him a scholarship to Virginia Tech.
“He was a very studious person,” said Karen, Zachary’s grandmother. “He liked to be home with his mom and dad.”
Police say Zachary killed his 17-year-old brother, Mathew, his father, a 30-year veteran detective with the Chesapeake Police Department, and attempted to kill his mother, Susie.
“I can’t imagine the way his mom and dad and brother thought the world (of him), how he could do this to them,” said Karen.
Zach’s grandmother says he seemed positive when she saw him Aug. 7, the day before the attack at the family’s home on Helen Avenue. She says his mom, Susie, packed his bags ahead of his junior year at Tech.
“Zach acted like he was on cloud 9, like he was going to have a great year at Tech, and he knew he couldn’t go back,” said Rex, who says he found out after the shooting that Zach had been placed on academic probation by the university.
The grandparents say Zach told his parents he would not be returning to school for the fall semester just hours before the shooting.
Rex says he learned from Chesapeake detectives his grandson possibly started planning the shooting in May.
Chesapeake police have not released a motive for the shooting, but family members have an idea: “I think he was just ashamed and afraid to come home and tell his parents what was going on. So, he just let it flow by all summer long and didn’t tell them.The final day to leave finally arrived and I guess he lost it.”
Karen and Rex say their grandson, Mathew, was a fun-loving kid who played the drums for Hickory High School’s band and admired Zach.
“I can see him still at his spring concert with the band standing up there playing the drums, and he was just so proud. So proud,” said Karen.
They both say their son always wanted to be a police officer. They admit they feared he would lose his life on the streets protecting others, but they never imagined him being gunned down inside his own home.
“You have to forgive a lot of things. You have to forgive,” said Karen. “It’s just hard for us to wrap around that [Zach] really did this.”
Karen and Rex say they don’t plan on visiting Zach in jail, but they do plan on showing up to his court appearances. Zach never showed any signs of mental illness, they say, but they believe he needs help now.
They say Susie has been released from the hospital after a bullet grazed her head.
Court records shows Zachary faces six felony charges, including two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.