Penn Hills murder-suicide a mystery

Retired janitor kills wife and two adopted sons, then turns gun on himself

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A retired custodian who had worked at the University of Pittsburgh apparently shot his wife and two adopted sons at their Penn Hills home before he turned the gun on himself sometime early this week, according to police.

Neighbors described George Terry Sr., 65, as "level-headed" and "nice" and said family members generally kept to themselves on quiet Davidson Drive, a short street with 11 homes off Hamill Road.

Mr. Terry, his wife, Phyllis, 64, and sons, George Jr., 26, and Jeffrey, 25, were found inside the two-story aluminum-sided home Wednesday night by the Terrys' daughter, Donna Russo, Penn Hills police said. All four victims appeared to have died of gunshot wounds.

Neither Ms. Russo nor other members of the Terry family would comment yesterday about the deaths. In addition to Ms. Russo, who lives near her parents' home, the Terrys have two other biological children, sons James and Robert.

Mrs. Terry was found in her bedroom and her husband was found in a hallway with a pistol nearby. The sons were found in separate rooms, one in the living room and the other in a bedroom.

Police believe George Terry Sr. killed the others before turning the gun on himself.

"Who knows why people snap or do what they do," Penn Hills Police Chief Howard Burton said. "He shot them in their sleep. They never knew what hit them."

Chief Burton said officers recovered a .38-caliber revolver in the hallway and a box of bullets on the couple's bed. No note was found, and investigators had not determined a motive for the shootings.

The Terrys belonged to St. Gerard Majella Church, located nearby on Hamill Road, but did not attend Mass regularly there in recent years.

The couple took in foster children over the years, including the sons they later adopted as teenagers, neighbors said.

Dolores Lauer, the church's secretary, said she taught George Jr. and Jeffrey Terry in religion class when they were children, but had not seen them recently.

Mrs. Terry, whose maiden name was Gallagher, grew up in Homewood and, like many families in Pittsburgh's East End, hers moved to Penn Hills. The Terrys bought their home in 1976.

Everyone in the area knew the family and Mrs. Terry could be counted on to contribute time and baked goods for church activities, Mrs. Lauer said.

Relatives and neighbors told police that the Terrys had been together at their home on Monday evening -- the last time anyone reported any activity at the house. In the driveway, police found newspapers that had been delivered Tuesday and Wednesday.

The implication, police said, is that the shootings occurred sometime late Monday or early Tuesday.

Chief Burton said he first met Mr. Terry years ago when Mr. Terry was a member of the board of directors of the Rosedale Beach Club.

The elder Terry had retired recently as a custodian at Pitt. His son and namesake had been a custodian in the Penn Hills School District.

Jim McKinnon can be reached at or 412-263-1939. Mike Bucsko can be reached at or 412-263-1732.


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