A Maryland man was arrested Friday afternoon and charged in a quadruple fatal shooting in Chester that left his former girlfriend and her three children dead. The suspect is the father of the two youngest victims, both 4.
Chesterfield County police said Jonah L. Adams, 35, was apprehended by agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives near his residence in Waldorf, Md., about 2 p.m. — just nine hours after the killings.
“They were able to set up surveillance on him and catch him coming back,” said Lt. Col. Chris Hensley. Adams remains in custody in Maryland.
Waldorf is in Charles County southeast of Washington, D.C.
Around the time of his capture, Chesterfield detectives obtained warrants charging Adams with four counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of JoAnna M. Cottle, 39; Kaelyn M. Parson, 13; Kinsey M. Cottle, 4; and Jayson L. Cottle, 4.
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Police said Adams was previously in a relationship with JoAnna Cottle, and is the father of twins Kinsey and Jayson.
No direct motive was provided for the shootings.
But Hensley said “there were hints of a turbulent relationship” between Cottle and Adams that friends and family members described in interviews with detectives.
“There was a previous protective order [involving the former couple] — not in effect now — that we identified,” Hensley said. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the protective order was filed in Chesterfield or elsewhere.
Hensely said there also appeared to be a conflict over the 4-year-old twins that Adams fathered with Cottle. “I don’t know if it was a custody dispute or a disagreement,” he said.
Hensley said Cottle called police just before 5 a.m. Friday to report an intruder was outside her home in the 4200 block of Laurel Oak Road.
“She remained on the line with us as the intruder made entry,” he said. “There was gunfire and then silence. But our officers were on the way and immediately made entry. The suspect obviously was not there. But of course they found the four victims, all deceased.”
“From an investigative standpoint, we immediately started looking into the family history, and that’s where we immediately recognized Jonah L. Adams as the potential suspect,” Hensley said.
Through an investigative technique that Hensley declined to describe, police were able to put Adams in the area around 4 a.m., he said.
“Our hearts go out the family and friends that are going to deal with these senseless murders today,” Hensley said.
The killings shocked neighbors and friends and family of the victims.
Latisha Jones, who grew up and attended school with JoAnna Cottle, drove to the scene from work as soon as she heard that police were investigating a multiple homicide in Cottle’s neighborhood.
She was in tears upon learning the Cottle home was at the center of the investigation.
“I grew up with her,” Jones said of JoAnna Cottle. “Elementary, middle, high school and after.”
Jones said she hadn’t seen Cottle for about a year, but remained close to her family and kids.
Jones said she was aware of some domestic issues involving Cottle and an ex-boyfriend, but “I didn’t think it would end like that.”
A pastor who lives in the neighborhood tried comforting Jones as they both watched police process the crime scene at the Cottle home.
“They were a wonderful family,” said the pastor, who declined to provide his name out of fear of jeopardizing his family’s safety. The suspect had not yet been apprehended when he spoke.
“They’ll be missed,” he said. “I knew them here [in the neighborhood]. I’ve been here close to 30 years, so I’ve known them a long time. They’re good neighbors.”
Reached later Friday, a sister of Cottle’s who declined to be identified, said the family had no immediate comment on the tragedy.
“Right now, we don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to jeopardize any investigation,” the sister said. “So nothing will be said by anyone. At this time it’s a private matter. This has hurt a lot of people.”
Friday’s incident was the worst mass-shooting in Chesterfield in more than eight years, when Barry “Chris” Jernigan, 35, fatally shot his wife, 2-year-old son and 9-year-old stepdaughter before turning the gun on himself on Father’s Day 2014. The carnage occurred inside the family’s Matoaca home in the 5700 block of Fox Maple Terrace.
About 12 hours before the killings, Jernigan’s wife wished her husband a happy Father’s Day in a Facebook posting with this message: “You are the best daddy our kids could ever ask for. Thank you for loving these kids more than yourself.”
Three years later, on the evening of Thanksgiving Day in 2017, Christopher R. Gattis, then 58, a former youth ministry director, fatally shot his wife, his step-daughter and her boyfriend at the family’s home in the 14000 block of Dogwood Ridge Court in Chester. He pleaded guilty to three counts each of murder and using a firearm in the commission of a felony, and was sentenced to serve an active prison term of 58 years.