Age Difference Of Pair Found Dead Bothered Parents
By Karin Brulliard and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page B01
Michaela Wegner, 15, was a cheery honors student who baked cookies for her classmates and thanked her teachers for their hard work. Harold Anthony Holt Jr. was a 19-year-old Dallas Cowboys fan who had dreams of a career in computer drafting.
They lived in spacious South Riding homes separated by two miles of wide suburban avenues and a verdant golf course. And they were in love.
So in love, the teenagers wrote in notes, that they had to be together, even though their parents disapproved of their relationship. They were found together Monday afternoon on Wegner's backyard deck with fatal gunshot wounds.
Yesterday, while Loudoun County law enforcement officials were trying to determine whether the deaths were a double suicide or a homicide and suicide, they revealed that the pair left notes, in different handwriting, indicating that they did not want to be separated.
"They were deeply in love with each other," Lt. Col. Randy Badura said. "That's essentially the message we're getting, as bizarre as that sounds."
Badura said that Wegner's parents were concerned that Holt was too old for their daughter. Holt's parents declined to comment yesterday; Wegner's parents did not return a phone call last night.
The two notes were found inside Wegner's home Monday afternoon by sheriff's investigators shortly after Holt and Wegner were found with gunshot wounds to the head. Nearby was a handgun that belonged to Holt's father, officials said.
The teenagers, who showed signs of life when they were found by one of Wegner's family members, died at area hospitals that night. Preliminary autopsies performed yesterday did not reveal who pulled the trigger.
The deaths stunned residents of South Riding, a tranquil, tight-knit development south of Dulles International Airport. And it shocked and saddened students at Broad Run High School, who just last year dealt with the fatal shooting of another classmate.
Both students were remembered at Broad Run yesterday as well-adjusted and well-liked, making the shootings all the more bewildering for teenagers trying to make sense of them. If the couple's lives outside of school were troubled, they showed no sign of it in the hallways or classrooms, teachers said.
Wegner, who worked on the yearbook staff, was described as bubbly and thoughtful. Biology teacher Linda Hendrickson said she baked cookies for her class to wish them luck on a biochemistry test. During teacher appreciation week in October, Wegner wrote a note thanking Hendrickson for "putting up with our crazy class," the teacher said.
"She was one of those kids who made you feel good about teaching," Hendrickson said. "She was really the light of the classroom."
She said Wegner, who preferred to be called Kayla, did not talk about her boyfriend, in the classroom or out. On Monday, Wegner was absent from biology, her last class of the day, she said.
Principal Edgar T. Markley said that Holt "struggled a little bit more in school" than Wegner but overcame academic troubles so he could graduate with his class in June.
Holt, who went by Tony, worked at the South Riding Food Lion grocery store after graduation, guidance counselor Deborah Tindale said. But he quit recently so he could pursue a career in computer design and was taking classes at ITT Technical Institute.
David Meninberg, a dean at Broad Run who taught Holt for two years in social studies classes, said he was a sweet, upbeat teenager who worked long hours after school. He would often come to class early, Meninberg said, flop down on a couch in the room and start talking football.
"Tony would always do well because he put in the hours, he showed up and people liked him," he said.
It is not clear how long Holt and Wegner had been a couple or how they met. Some neighbors who gathered Monday night outside Wegner's home said they had seen Holt's black pickup truck on several occasions for at least a year.
Others expressed shock that such an incident had occurred in the neighborhood.
"I've been living here four years, and it's quiet like a church mouse," said John Dingus Jr., a landscaper who lives down the street from the Wegner's home.
In a sign of how rarely such events occur in South Riding, the general manager of the South Riding homeowners association issued a statement about the incident yesterday, saying that both teenagers were "known to be upstanding residents of our community" and that the whole neighborhood had been saddened.
At Broad Run, the school day began with a somber meeting for grieving teachers. Over the public-address system, Markley asked that students remember the two during the school's mandated minute of silence -- and warned students against spreading rumors about how the shootings might have happened.
In March, Donald Nicholas Shomaker, also 15, was shot and killed in the basement of a friend's house. Authorities ruled the shooting an accident, and Matthew J. Lathram, 17 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
Alex Gallo, 17, said discussion in her classroom yesterday revolved around the tragedies and ways to help students keep their problems from spinning out of control.
"This is the second time, so there might be a sense that it isn't a fluke," said Gallo, president of the student government. At the same time, she said, the shootings were "not characteristic of our community or our school."
Markley said attendance was high at school yesterday, so students could grieve together.
"They've got to find a way to get through this and understand something that is very hard to understand," he said.