Killer of 8 in Texas was estranged husband of a victim, her parents say

Names released by police
Meredith Hight.
Meredith Hight.

A passionate cook and hostess, Meredith Hight’s football watching party was to be the first gathering of friends she hosted on her own. She had filed for divorce from her husband, Spencer Hight, in July, and the cookout would bring new memories into the Plano, Texas, house the couple once bought together but shared no more.

“He was not moving on and she was,” Meredith’s mother, Debbie Lane, told the local news channel WFAA.

Meredith’s neighbors described hearing laughter as her friends — the car salesman, the yoga enthusiast, the groomsman at Meredith and Spencer’s wedding — showed up for a day of grilling and football, according to the Dallas Morning News and WFAA.

But when Spencer — reportedly depressed and armed with a gun — crashed the party at around 8 p.m., Meredith and her friends suddenly became the victims of one of Texas’ worst mass shootings. Spencer, identified as the shooter by Plano police on Tuesday, was fatally shot by an officer who arrived at the scene.

Officials identified the eight shooting victims on Tuesday. Police said nine gunshot victims were discovered at the home Sunday night. Seven died there, and two injured victims were taken to the hospital. One of those wounded victims later died.

The victims are Meredith Emily Hight, 27; Anthony Michael Cross, 33; Olivia Nicole Deffner, 24; James Richard Dunlop, 29; Darryl William Hawkins, 22; Rion Christopher Morgan, 31; Myah Sade Bass, 28; and Caleb Seth Edwards, 25.

An investigation by the Dallas Morning News portrayed a marriage celebrated joyfully on a Jamaican cruise but later marred by Spencer’s drinking problem, financial instability and outbreaks of violence.

An unnamed friend of Spencer’s told the Morning News that she had exchanged online messages with him a few days before the shooting. She said he seemed sad and lonely and seemed to obsessively refer back to one question: “How can the one person you’re supposed to love more than life itself end up being the one person you hate more than life itself?”

In an interview with WFAA, Meredith’s parents, Debbi and Gene Lane, held back tears as they reflected on their daughter’s final night and her 27 years before it.

“We’re grateful that we had her at all,” Debbie Lane said.

Gene Lane said no one who left the party before the shooting had any sense of impending trouble. There were no issues at the party until Spencer showed up.

WFAA reported that Meredith and Spencer met when both attended the University of Texas at Dallas. Debbie Lane said Spencer lived in an apartment downstairs from Meredith. The couple married in September 2011, according to the Morning News, and exchanged vows on a Caribbean cruise the next year.

“When she was 20 years old and decided that she and Spencer were going to be married, we knew there was no dissuading her,” Debbie Lane told WFAA.

By early Wednesday morning, the Morning News had begun compiling profiles of the victims. They included Darryl Hawkins, whose sister Madelyn described him as her “best friend.”

“He always had my back, always. Always,” she told the newspaper. She said her brother worked as a car salesman and had recently received a promotion.

In a statement on Twitter circulated by NBC DFW, the family of victim Tony Cross wrote that the tragedy served as a reminder “to always make time for the important people in your life.”

“[Tony] didn’t need a reminder to pursue his passions or to spend time with the ones he loved,” the statement read. “He lived and loved the way we all should.”

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