A 4-year-old girl answered the officer’s raps on the front door. Her shirt was drenched in blood.
Paramedics immediately cut off her clothing. They found a bullet wound in her chest.
“She was not crying,” said Samantha Manchester, a neighbor who watched in horror as the scene unfolded Thursday night. “When they were tearing off her clothes, she looked around at all of us and all she could say was, ‘My whole family is dead.’ ”
Inside the two-story home on Clairidge Lane, police found the dead and the dying. Atania Butler, 28; her 11-year-old daughter; and Rico Zimmerman, 19, lay dead of gunshot wounds. Lakeisha Parker, 30, was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center. She later died.
The 4-year-old, also Butler’s daughter, was taken to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite for surgery. Police have released neither her name nor her condition.
Within hours, police posted an alert for 44-year-old Richard T. Ringold, saying he was armed and dangerous. Authorities believe he was Butler’s boyfriend.
But early Friday morning, Ringold surprised police by returning to the Clairidge Crossing subdivision near Lawrenceville.
“Conveniently, he drove up to the scene like he didn’t know what was going on,” Gwinnett police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman said.
Ringold was immediately arrested and charged with four counts of murder and aggravated assault.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said investigators believe the incident started out as a domestic dispute but quickly escalated into the county’s biggest multi-victim slaying in more than two decades. Ringold apparently began an argument with Butler in the front yard, pulled a gun, took her inside and shot her, Porter said.
Phil Wiley, chief assistant district attorney, said investigators believe Butler lived in the home with her two children. Parker was her friend and just happened to be there. Investigators are unsure how Zimmerman knew the victims, but it was his girlfriend who escaped the home and called 911, he said.
“She said when he came in, he just started opening fire and started shooting at everybody,” Wiley said.
He said it appears that Ringold and Butler were arguing because he may have become romantically involved with another woman.
“We don’t know for sure why the other people were killed,” Porter said.
Perhaps, the prosecutor said, Ringold wanted to eliminate all the witnesses and may have believed he had when he left the scene. That could explain why Ringold returned some three hours later acting as if he did not know what had happened, Porter said.
Porter said he has yet to decide whether he will seek the death penalty against Ringold.
According to court records, Ringold sought a divorce from his estranged wife, Stephanie Ringold, in May. But a Gwinnett County judge dismissed the case Aug. 12 after court papers that had been sent to Richard Ringold’s last known address in Atlanta were returned as undeliverable.
The divorce filing says that the couple married in 1987 and had two children, who were in the custody of their mother.
Court records indicate Ringold had been unemployed and owed $4,500 to a former landlord.
John Bolden Jr., Ringold’s brother in law, said Friday he has not had contact with Ringold for more than a year. When he saw news of the killings Friday morning, Bolden was stunned.
“He was a family man just like I am,” Bolden said. “I really don’t know what transpired in the last few months or year of his life. It’s surprising, it’s shocking, it’s all of those things.”
Ringold is now being held without bond in the Gwinnett County jail.
By early Friday morning, some sense of normalcy had returned to the subdivision of neatly kept homes with well manicured lawns. Some residents began their commute to work. Some dropped their kids off at the bus stop.
But at the Clairidge Lane home where the shootings occurred, police removed crime scene tape and firefighters used a pressure washer to remove bloodstains off the sidewalk.
“It was so sad,” said Doris Amma, who lives nearby. “Neighbors here are nice. They’ve never, ever seen something like this before. Thank God he was arrested.”
Manchester, the neighbor who saw paramedics treat the 4-year-old and then rush her off to the hospital, said she is consumed with thoughts of the girl.
“I feel so sad for her,” Manchester said. “This little girl will be traumatized the rest of her life.”
Staff writer Marcus Garner contributed to this article.