Feud between neighbors sparked police shooting, sheriff says
It has been four years since Ralph Stanley Elrod Jr. and his wife, Rhonda, moved into their house on a paved country lane at the edge of a pecan orchard in the farmland of northern Peach County.
Their place on Hardison Road on Byron’s west side, a $170,000 three-bedroom home shaded by clusters of trees and shrubbery, sits on about three acres just up the way from Ga. 42. The highway from there runs out toward Crawford County and the towns of Knoxville and Roberta.
It was there on Sunday that Elrod, armed with a handgun, is said to have opened fire on Peach sheriff’s deputies, killing one and gravely wounding another. Authorities have said the officers had gone there to see about a neighborhood dispute, something possibly to do with people riding a motorbike and a four-wheeler along the road.
What prompted the gunfire is, at least publicly, as much a mystery for now as the question of who Ralph Elrod is and, what’s more, what may have compelled him to gun down the police.
Elrod, a licensed electrical contractor, had a thin blue line sticker on his mailbox post, a sign typically symbolic of appreciation for law enforcement.
His son is a sheriff’s deputy in Jones County, 25 miles away. A law enforcement source told The Telegraph on Monday that the son, apparently from a previous marriage, was on duty Sunday evening when the Peach deputies were shot.
Jones Sheriff Butch Reece described Elrod’s son, a young deputy who had served in the military, as “a good kid.”
“Our prayers are with the Peach County deputies’ families,” Reece said. “It’s hard to believe things like this happen.”
Elrod, 57, was himself wounded in the barrage, which later involved police officers from Byron, a mile or two away, who’d come to help the deputies.
Elrod grew up in Macon in the 1960s. For a time, he and his folks lived on Rocky Creek Road on the city’s south side. His father and namesake managed a tire company and was an avid recreational tennis player.
When Elrod’s dad died last year at age 84, his obituary included a lighthearted poem that harkened to his sporting pastime: “Here I lie buried deep; with my tennis balls at my feet; tennis racket in my hand; now hit ’em, big boy, if you can.”
A woman who answered the phone at Elrod’s parents’ house in east Macon on Monday hung up when a reporter called.
One of Elrod’s neighbors in Peach County was as “clueless” about what happened there Sunday. The neighbor said he would on occasion wave at Elrod when Elrod drove past on their road.
One of the only times the neighbor remembered talking to Elrod was when Elrod first moved in back in 2012. The neighbor and his wife took the Elrods a fruit basket to welcome them to the neighborhood.
Other than that, the neighbor, who asked that his name not be printed, said, “My dealing with him was sometimes misplaced mail in my box, taking it to him.”
The neighbor said the area there on the outskirts of Byron is the kind of place where folks tend keep to themselves. Houses aren’t right on top of one another. There’s room to spread out.
“It’s kind of countrified,” the neighbor said. “People ride four-wheelers and motorcycles — people that have them — but it hasn’t been something that’s been, you know, to torment people.”
What led Elrod, born in 1959, to move there after spending much of his life in Macon wasn’t clear.
According to online databases, he has in the past lived in Douglasville in Paulding County and in Virginia Beach.
Records show that he was divorced in 1993 and that he re-married in 1996. His wife in the second marriage, according to court records in Macon, filed for divorce the next year but the matter was later dismissed.
Peach Sheriff Terry Deese told The Telegraph Monday afternoon that he hadn’t been familiar with Elrod, but that his deputies had in the past had dealings with him about complaints Elrod made about neighbors riding four-wheelers.
The sheriff said Elrod had also filed a complaint about a neighbor for what Deese described as “pouring oil on the ground.”
When Deese arrived at the shooting scene Sunday evening, he said a woman at Elrod’s house didn’t shed much light on the bloodshed.
“She just said, ‘This thing with the neighbors has gone on too long,’” Deese recalled. “That’s what she was blaming it on.”
Deese mentioned seeing the thin blue line emblem on Elrod’s mailbox post.
“Normally that means people are supporting law enforcement,” the sheriff said, “not out to kill them.”
Telegraph reporter Amy Leigh Womack and photographer Woody Marshall contributed.