The deaths of former WWE champion Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy and their son Daniel are being treated as an apparent murder-suicide, according to investigators in Fayette County, Georgia.
Speaking at a press conference held at the front gate of Benoit's home in rural Fayetteville on Tuesday (June 26), District Attorney Scott Ballard said Benoit killed his wife and son sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning — placing a bible next to each of their bodies — before taking his own life in a weight room in the basement of the house.
"In a community like this, it's bizarre to have a murder-suicide," Ballard told reporters, clarifying earlier comments he had made in which he said details of the deaths were "a little bizarre." "Some period of time elapsed between the time of death of the two victims and [Benoit's] suicide. It was bizarre that he would be in the home with the deceased bodies."
Ballard added that Benoit's wife was killed in an upstairs "family room," her body found bound by her hands and feet, and that there was "blood under her head." The couple's 7-year-old son was killed in his upstairs bedroom. Both deaths were attributed to asphyxiation, according to an autopsy performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Benoit hung himself using a cord from a weight set. When asked for a possible motive for the murders, Ballard said he couldn't speculate on Benoit's state of mind over the weekend but added, "I'm baffled by why anyone would kill a 7-year-old."
Ballard also said that investigators found several prescription drugs in the house, as well as anabolic steroids, but he could not comment on whether or not Benoit was taking them, as officials are awaiting the results of a toxicology report, which might take "longer than two weeks" to come in from the lab.
Benoit, whose workmanlike approach to wrestling earned him legions of fans and championships in the WWE, WCW and ECW, was scheduled to perform at the WWE's "Vengeance" pay-per-view event on Sunday in Houston but backed out at the last minute citing "a family emergency," according to the WWE. On its Web site, the WWE added that it asked the Fayette County Sheriff's Department to check on Benoit after receiving "several curious text messages" sent by the wrestler early Sunday morning.
Authorities arrived at Benoit's home on Monday afternoon, and upon entering the residence, quickly located the bodies of Benoit, Nancy and Daniel. The WWE then canceled that evening's live broadcast of "Monday Night Raw," instead airing a three-hour tribute to Benoit, complete with matches spanning his 20-plus year career and testimonials from his fellow wrestlers.
Tributes also appeared on WWE.com, but as news started to break that Benoit may have murdered his wife and young son, those were gradually replaced with photo collections and straight news reporting on the situation. By Tuesday afternoon, a sober news report of the tragedy was on the site's home page.
In the wake of the news, professional wrestling fans around the world have taken to sites like PWInsider.com to post their feelings on Benoit, who was idolized by so-called "smart fans" for his bruising, technical style. And while many remembered him as an in-ring giant, their opinions of him out of the ring have forever changed.
"If that TMZ report is totally true, well, let's just say that Chris Benoit was a 'special' sort of monster," one fan wrote. "I hate it, but if ... that is true, my respect and admiration of any sort for Chris Benoit died right with him."
"I have 7 and 8 year old sons. Reading this story, I can actually hear my kids screaming for help if I were to ever do something so horrible, and it makes me want to throw up," another added. "How a father can do this is beyond me. To compare Benoit to Owen Hart [another much-revered grappler who died in a freak in-ring incident in 1999] is akin to desecrating Hart's grave."
Benoit and Nancy, a wrestling manager who worked under the name "Woman," were married in 2000 but separated in May 2003 when Nancy filed for divorce, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Accompanying that filing was a petition for protection from domestic abuse, with Nancy claiming that she was intimidated by her husband, who "lost his temper and threatened to strike the petitioner and cause extensive damage to the home." In another count, she claimed Benoit had destroyed furniture in their home.
On the same day the divorce and petition for protection were filed, a judge issued a restraining order against the wrestler, which barred him from the family's home. A few months later, in August, Nancy filed to have both the divorce and protective petition dismissed.
[This story was originally published at 2:35 pm E.T. on 06.26.2007]