BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Derrick Dearman allegedly tracked his girlfriend down to where she was hiding after fleeing his abuse, murdered the family of five sheltering her, and then kidnapped her and the infant child of one of his victims.
Dearman, a 28-year-old Mississippi native with a lengthy criminal record and previous accusations of domestic violence, turned himself in to the sheriff’s department in his hometown following the massacre that unfolded on Saturday morning in Citronelle, Alabama.
A Mobile County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson told The Daily Beast that upon surrendering, Dearman confessed to having killed “at least one” of the five victims.
Dearman tracked his girlfriend, Laneta Lester, 24, to the house where she was staying with five others, including a 3-month-old infant. Lester was there to avoid Dearman because, police say, he was abusing her. The house sits on Jim Platt Road, a desolate stretch of Alabama wiregrass about five miles from the Mississippi state line.
Dearman first visited the home just after midnight Friday, but he fled after someone called the police.
He returned a short time later once the scene was all clear, “between 1:15 a.m. and daylight,” according to the sheriff’s department. That’s when Dearman allegedly broke into the house and murdered five occupants, who authorities have now named as Robert Lee Brown, 26; Chelsea Marie Reed (who was five months pregnant), 22; Justin Kaleb Reed, 23; Joseph Adam Turner, 27; and Shannon Melissa Randall, 35.
All the victims were related by blood or marriage. The house was owned by victims Turner and Randall. Brown was Randall’s brother, and the Reeds were Randall’s niece and nephew.
The complaint filed by prosecutors alleges that Dearman entered the home on Jim Platt Road with an ax and a firearm. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran said Dearman used the ax to kill each of his victims before also shooting them to be sure they were dead.
Cochran also said Dearman, who was high on methamphetamine, made several stops after kidnapping his girlfriend before reaching his father’s house in Mississippi, including a visit to a house he knew so that he could continue using drugs. Cochran said Dearman did not tell the people he visited what he had just done in Citronelle. Finally, Dearman released his girlfriend and the infant at his father’s house before turning himself in.
According to her Facebook account, Lester began dating Dearman in January 2016, and her friends responded angrily online. “Your [sic] joking,” one wrote. Another simply responded, “What??!!!”
“He’s a piece of shit you can do better...” another person wrote in June. That same month, a man posted on Facebook about Dearman, warning people to “call 9-1-1” if they spotted him.
Dearman’s ex-wife Crystal Dearman said she divorced him in 2013 after he abused her and her children for years.
“I woke up to him holding a knife to my throat in bed with my baby in the crib,” she told WALA-TV.
A family member of Dearman’s, who was not identified, also told the station that his girlfriend’s parents absolutely disapproved of his relationship with Lester.
“Laneta’s parents have been trying to force her to stay away from Derrick,” the family member said. “On the other hand I have seen a positive change in Derrick since he has been with her. He contacted me over a month ago saying her parents had kicked her out.”
Domestic violence is a “serious problem” in Mobile County, according to a January 2014 report that followed three homicides in the county in two separate incidents involving cases of continuing domestic abuse. In the three preceding years, domestic violence accounted for 70 percent of all the jurisdiction’s reported simple assaults.
A man in Leakesville, Mississippi, who knows both Dearman and Lester told The Daily Beast he was aware that Dearman had been using methamphetamine and said it caused him to become aggressive, at those times often abusing Lester.
A spokesperson for the Mobile County sheriff confirmed to The Daily Beast that Dearman was wanted by police in south Alabama for a burglary in December. Dearman was also held in contempt of court last March for failure to pay child support.
Dearman was booked into Mobile County jail on Monday evening, at which time he was formally charged with six counts of capital murder and two counts of first degree kidnapping.
As he was being escorted into jail, Dearman told reporters he had been in a rage induced by “ice,” a potent form of methamphetamine, when he committed the crimes, and claimed to have little memory of the night.
“Drugs [made] me think things that’s not really there,” he said. “I came down and realized what was really going on.”
“What are you going to say to your kids?” WKRG’s Jacqueline Quynh asked Dearman.
“Don’t do drugs,” Dearman repeated.
One reporter asked if Dearman deserved to live.
“No,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated throughout.