Army Reservist, wife identified in suspected Va. Beach murder-suicide
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. --- On Sept. 17, 2012, Dennie and Tammy Black renewed their marriage vows over a video hookup, separated by 6,000 miles.
He wore fatigues, as he was deployed to Kuwait as a member of the Army Reserve. She was in Virginia Beach, wearing a white dress and carrying a bouquet. The ceremony celebrated their 23 years of marriage, and Dennie Black called it an opportunity to renew their love and commitment.
"I think that's something that every marriage needs every so often," Dennie Black said, according to a story on the U.S. Army's website. A photographer captured him blowing her a kiss.
On Sunday, Dennie Black had a different message. At 12:30, he posted on Facebook that the truth about his marriage was about to come out. "Tammy, I hope you're happy!" he wrote.
Three hours later, both were dead. Dennie Black, 45, is believed to have shot his wife at the condo they had shared off Shore Drive. Then he shot himself and fell off the sixth-floor balcony, according to police reports and the medical examiner's office.
Friends and family, who say the shooting came after months of turmoil, are questioning events leading to the deaths. On Sunday, friends say, police took Tammy Black, 43, to a magistrate so she could seek an emergency protective order against her husband.
Through Master Police Officer James Cason, a police spokesman, police declined to comment.
Virginia Beach Chief Magistrate Thomas R. Cahill said he could not comment on any specific case.
Michelle Bryant, Tammy Black's sister, said her sister called on Sunday, telling her she was on her way to the magistrate and admitting that she was scared to go. Black called back a little while later to say her request had been denied.
"Go pack your bags and come home" to Amherst, Va., Bryant told her. That was the last time Bryant would talk to her sister.
Dennie Black, an Army reservist who had been promoted to captain earlier this year, made three wartime deployments since Sept. 11, 2001, including a tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq with the 78th Training Support Division, according to Master Sgt. Michael Chann, a spokesman for the Army's Human Resources Command.
A year ago, while in Kuwait on what was to be his final deployment, Black recorded a video wishing his wife and adult daughter a Merry Christmas back home in Virginia. A month earlier, the Army posted photos of Black celebrating his conversion to Catholicism while on deployment.
Back home in civilian life, Black worked at the Navy's regional police training academy at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, where he instructed entry-level police officers. He was hired there in July 2011, said Jim Moir, a spokesman for the Navy's Mid-Atlantic Region.
Bryant remembers her sister telling her that Dennie Black had "never really been the same since he came back from Iraq." The two had married young after growing up in south central Virginia - he in Lynchburg, she in Amherst.
In October, Tammy Black decided she wanted to end the marriage, Bryant said, and they started the divorce process. Dennie Black had moved out of their condo at the Chesapeake House.
Cindy Banwarth, Tammy Black's friend, said Tammy Black told her that her husband was abusive and had threatened to kill her and himself. Banwarth said Tammy Black didn't want to report him to police because of fear of what it would do to his career.
Sunday, after the trip to the magistrate's office, friends agreed to escort her back to the condo, according to Banwarth. They circled the parking lot looking for her husband's car.
Banwarth, who was headed to the Blacks' condo, heard screaming and gunshots. "Something's wrong with Tammy," she thought as she ran for safety.
Sitting at the traffic light at the entrance to the condos, Megan Fowler heard a gunshot over her car stereo. She glanced at the Chesapeake House in time to see something drop from a balcony.
Then Fowler saw a woman run out of the building toward a nearby police car. She said the officer grabbed a weapon and headed inside.
In Amherst on Monday, family gathered at Bryant's house, still sorting out what had happened. Instead of Christmas, they'd be planning a funeral.