Estranged husband shoots dead wife, seven friends at party
MEREDITH Lane was the happiest she had been in years. The popular 27-year-old was determined to get on with her life after the collapse of her marriage to college sweetheart Spencer Hight, who she filed for divorce from in July.
The couple had been married since 2011 - their wedding took place on a Jamaican cruise - but the romance ended after Ms Lane confided to her family about his drinking problem and his violence towards her.
Last week, she was hosting an American Football viewing party in Plano, Texas, with several close friends, including some who had been in her wedding party, when Hight, 32, arrived - with a gun.
He opened fire on the group, shooting his estranged wife and seven others dead. All but one died at the scene.
The couple met when they became neighbours while they were both at college. Ms Lane's mother Debbie last saw her daughter just a few days before the shooting spree.
Debbie Lane told NBC affiliate DFW she spent that last meeting helping her get the house ready for the party. "[She was] getting things ready for her to celebrate her newly reclaimed single life," Mrs Lane said.
Ms Lane was looking to go back to study and was happy. When her mother heard the devastating news, she knew at once who the gunman was. "There was nobody else. Nobody else who would consider doing such a thing."
COLLEGE SWEETHEARTS ... THEN MURDERER AND VICTIM
Her daughter had told her of a violent episode when Hight slammed her face against a wall. She never told police, and her family were happy she was moving on
"It was officially 'out with the old and in with the new,'" Mrs Lane told local television station WFAA. "It was her reclaiming her life, and she was thrilled to be doing that. It was the happiest she'd been in years. Years."
She was scathing of the actions of her former son-in-law. "I think he saw our comfort, ease, and happiness ... and her embracing new life, and resented it to the maximum and responded the way he did."
The party had been held so the friends could enjoy the Dallas Cowboys match against the Atlanta Falcons. Ms Lane's father Gene said the family knew some of the victims. "What their families are going through right now is pure hell."
Mrs Lane told CBS she was speaking out because she didn't want the life of other families torn apart by domestic violence.
"I am hoping that other young women or older women who have doubts about their partners, think there's something a little fishy there, or the person is brutal in some way - get out. Don't look back. Find a good person. And move on and leave it behind because otherwise you can end up dead.
"I think that's why I'm not weeping like a mad woman like now. Because it matters."
She told of hearing the news no parent ever wishes to hear. "Meredith was the first victim identified, and he could confirm her death. Excuse me - he could confirm her brutal murder. I mince no words about it. It was a heinous, evil, monstrous crime."
Friends of the couple have told the Dallas Morning News the tension in their relationship began when Hight lost his contracting job. It was far removed from the loved-up photos that Ms Lane proudly shared with family and friends on Facebook of happier times. In one 2015 image of Hight, she captioned it: "Pretty much what I live for."
Hight was less active on Facebook, but he did make a rare appearance in April to tell followers 2017 had been his "toughest year to date".
A friend told the Morning News she spoke to Hight several times in the lead up to the massacre. He seemed sad and lonely, but there was no hint of the calamity to come. The friend told him to make good choices.
In the hours before the shooting, neighbours could hear the happy sounds of a barbecue and the friends laughing.
Police are still piecing together the timeline of what happened that night. What they do know is it was all over in just minutes.
A 911 call was made about shots being fired and the closest patrol arrived within minutes. Such shootings are common in the US, but rare in Plano, which is located 30 kilometres northeast of Dallas. The officer found two victims in the backyard. Once inside, the officer confronted Hight, who was still armed and opened fire on the officer. The officer shot Hight dead, bringing the total number of deceased to nine.
There was one survivor. Carly Shockey has issued a statement appealing for privacy, as well as calling for the memory of her friends to be honoured.
"Our hearts are heavy for the families affected by this senseless tragedy. Carly is in stable, but serious condition. This is the beginning of a very long recovery journey for both Carly and our family," the statement said.
Two of the victims had been in Hight and Ms Lane's wedding party. James Dunlop, 29, was Hight's best man and Rion Morgan, 31, was one of his groomsmen.
The other victims were Anthony "Tony" Cross, 33; Olivia Deffner, 24; Darryl William Hawkins, 22; Myah Bass, 28; and Caleb Edwards, 25.
It's believed after the marriage ended earlier this year and Hight moved out in March, he crashed on Mr Dunlop's couch for a few weeks.
Ms Lane's father Gene said he hoped Hight would have got on with his life, and allowed Ms Lane to live hers.
It wasn't to be. "He was a very talented and artistic person, but he just didn't have coping skills," Mr Lane said.
Mrs Lane has no doubt what drove Hight to commit mass murder.
"I don't think he was crazy, I think we make choices consciously," she said. "He was not stupid. I think he chose evil."