Mental illness plagued suspected Sheldon Park shooter for decades, police say
A Harrison woman and her teenage daughter had just gotten out of their car and were walking to their front door at Harrison’s Sheldon Park housing complex when a neighbor shot them Monday night in an unprovoked attack, authorities said.
The suspected shooter, Eddie Layne, 48, suffered from mental illness for decades and believed the mother and daughter were spying on him, according to police. Layne reportedly shot and killed himself shortly after firing on the mother and daughter with a shotgun.
“It’s a senseless shooting of a mother and daughter who were merely attempting to return to their home,” Harrison police Chief Mike Klein said Tuesday.
Allegheny County Police said Tuesday morning that the 41-year-old woman was in critical condition, while her 16-year-old daughter was stable. Authorities did not identify the victims or provide an update on their conditions later in the day.
Highlands School District spokeswoman Jennifer Goldberg confirmed the 16-year-old is a Highlands High School student.
Layne went into his ex-wife’s home and committed suicide after firing on the mother and daughter about 9 p.m., county police said. Layne had been staying at Sheldon Park with his ex-wife and his son, police said.
The Allegheny County Housing Authority began taking steps Tuesday to evict the ex-wife from Sheldon Park.
The shooting happened within eyesight of the Harrison Police Department at the township’s municipal building.
County police said Layne had suffered from a mental illness for more than 20 years. Witnesses told police he became agitated and believed his neighbors were spying on him.
“It does not appear anything provocative preceded this,” Klein said.
‘It could have been any of us’
A neighbor across the street, who did not want to provide her name, said she hid in a bathroom with her two children, ages 2 and 9, after hearing the shotgun blasts. She said she previously had heard Layne talk about how he would kill somebody, someday.
Chelsea Shaner, who lives next to the victims’ residence, said she also hid until police told her it was safe.
“It could have been any of us,” she said. “It could have been my kids.”
Shaner said she didn’t know Layne. “I just stick to myself because of everything that goes on,” she said.
Klein could not cite statistics for criminal incidents at Sheldon Park, but said it has a “higher call volume.”
“There’s no way to process this and dismiss it as, ‘This is how things have become,’” he said. “This area, as any other area, isn’t immune.”
An ‘evil’ aura
Garnet Rusz, another Sheldon Park resident, said Layne had an “evil” aura. She recalled how earlier this summer Layne approached her and some friends and accused them of being racist for not talking with him. They are white; Layne was black.
On another occasion, Rusz said Layne told her he needed friends and asked her if she’d be his.
Rusz said Layne also talked about owning a gun, but she never saw him with one.
Police said Tuesday it was unclear how he came into possession of the firearm used in the shooting.
“You could see there was something wrong with this person,” Rusz said. “We tried to make sure whenever we were outside we had an excuse and were never near him.”
‘He fell through the cracks’
Denise Peachey said she countered Layne’s claim of racism by inviting him into her home, where she showed him pictures of blues musicians she has performed with who are black.
It was the only time she spoke with him.
“He said people were after him,” Peachey said. “He said everyone was after him, everyone was out to get him.”
Peachey’s home is in a building right next to where the shooting happened. When it did, Peachey said, she got on the floor in her hallway.
“I sat here for three hours,” she said.
Peachey said she’s lived at Sheldon Park since 2006.
“I don’t know if I want to live here anymore,” she said, citing drugs and other violent incidents. “This is constant here.”
Rusz, Peachey and another friend, Debbie Mathison, all wondered why Layne didn’t get help for his mental illness or why those who knew him didn’t seek it for him.
“I prayed for him last night,” Mathison said. “It’s awful he died. He fell through the cracks.”
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.