'Family man': Parkway shooting suspect's family, boss express shock

news-parkwayshooting-cliffssuspect-ralph-leon-jackson-insetRalph Leon Jackson, 56, was arrested for the sunset shooting of Christina S. Floyd and Timothy P. Davis at Rock Point Overlook.

A day after 56-year-old Ralph Leon Jackson's arrest as the alleged assailant in the brutal Blue Ridge Parkway double shooting case, those who know him say they're struggling to believe the quiet man they know could have committed such a heinous crime.

"He was just such a nice guy, you just can't imagine him doing something like this," says a stunned Barbara Lambert, who, with her husband, co-owns Delmar's auto body repair shop in Staunton where Jackson worked for the past three years as a painter's assistant.

Lambert says that Jackson has been "a good worker" but that his schedule had become erratic due to serious health problems including advanced prostate cancer, for which he had recently received aggressive treatment including chemotherapy.

"We allowed him to work when he felt like it," she says. Apparently, Jackson was feeling well enough on Tuesday morning, April 6, when he appeared for work just 12 hours after allegedly shooting 18-year-old Fluvanna County High School senior Christina Floyd and 27-year-old WNRN DJ Tim Davis, who tumbled over the edge of the Rock Creek Overlook and landed approximately 150 feet below.

During the April 5 attack, Floyd fought back so tenaciously that she broke fingers, ripped her assailant's shirt off, and may have even wrested the shotgun away from her attacker before he pushed her over the edge of the overlook and hurled rocks down upon her. Davis was hospitalized in critical condition but died Friday, April 9 at UVA Hospital.

In a press conference announcing Jackson's arrest, Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher confirmed that as Floyd fought her assailant, she asked, "Why are you doing this?" His alleged response: "Because I'm crazy."

Floyd suffered two skull fractures and a collapsed lung before she managed to scramble up to the road, where passersby picked her up and whisked her to safety. While she has not responded to the Hook's request for an interview, she has expressed gratitude on Facebook and explained her drive to survive.

"All I could think of was my family and friends getting the news of my death, and that made me get up and fight real quick," she wrote on a friend's wall.

news-parkwayshooting-rockpointoverlook-insetThe friends had stopped for views from Rock Point Overlook.

Despite the appearance of redness on Jackson's neck in his mugshot, Lambert says she noticed nothing unusual when Jackson arrived at work at 8am on April 6. She also didn't register any suspicion when Jackson mentioned the shooting.

"He talked about seeing the [rescuers] lights" from his house, she says. "He said, 'They think it was a park ranger.'"

The two-bedroom rental home Jackson shared with his wife and adult daughter at 1880 Howardsville Turnpike, also known as State Highway 610, lies three miles, as the crow flies, from the scene of the ambush–- just over 10 miles by car.

"We just thought he was talking about it from an observation point of view," says Lambert, chilled by the notion that she may have been speaking to the shooter in what's been described as a random act of violence.

news-parkwayshootingThe site of the shooting lies about four miles south of Humpback Rocks, 10 miles south of Rockfish Gap, and just three miles–- as the crow flies–- from Jackson's home.

Lambert isn't the only one surprised by Jackson's arrest. "He was sort of a family man–- he stayed around home most of the time," says Jackson's oldest brother, Lonnie, who lives in Craigsville and last saw Jackson at Christmas.

The second of six boys, Jackson was born just 10 months and 15 days after big brother Lonnie, who suffered from health issues as an infant and required intensive care. Two babies so close in age was too much for his late mother, Lonnie says, so the infant Leon Jackson was sent to live with his grandparents.

By the time four other brothers were born, Lonnie had recovered sufficiently for his mother to handle their care, but Jackson never returned home. Instead, he moved to West Virgina, seeing his five brothers–- one of whom died at age 10 after being hit by a drunk driver–- only occasionally during  summer or holiday visits. It was a pattern that continued into adulthood.

Although he didn't see Jackson frequently, another Jackson brother, Ronnie, reached at the home of their ailing father, says there was no reason to believe Jackson, who loved hunting, was a threat to humans.

"He wasn't a bad person. He had no history of violence," says Ronnie, who doesn't believe Jackson had an issue with drinking or drugs. Like Lambert, both Ronnie and Lonnie wonder if Jackson's health problems–- which include a heart attack several years ago for which, Lonnie says, he remained medicated–- might have contributed to the alleged act. Indeed, some research suggests that chemotherapy can cause brain damage and even dementia.

Whatever the cause, "I'm sorry for everyone involved," says Lonnie. As investigators interrogate Jackson, some are hoping his arrest may help solve other cases, in particular last August's shooting deaths of two Virginia Tech students in a campground in the Jefferson National Forest. Investigators from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, says Sheriff's spokesperson Lt. Brian Wright, will be traveling to Augusta to compare notes.

"Early indications are that they're not expecting there to be a connection," says Wright, "but they want to make sure they at least look into it."

As for Jackson, currently charged with attempted capital murder, he will remain behind bars. In an April 8 hearing, County Judge John Quigley denied Jackson's request for bond; and according to the Waynesboro News Virginian, Jackson then defiantly told the judge, "Thank you very little."

Lambert says that as she helps her employees deal with the trauma of a coworker's arrest, she's relieved that the carnage has stopped.

"It's frightening to think what could have happened if he'd walked in here with the shotgun," she says. "We have people in and out all the time."

–updated for print publication 12:51pm, Tuesday, April 13


I think the sleuth with the proof may be on to something. Jackson could be a link to other crimes.


Somebody criticizes the Hook and Gasbag finds a way to steer the conversation back to... Gasbag.

Yes, I am an expert on everything.

Let me show you what I have been saying for a long long time, and it now comes from a JUDGE if you don't trust me... a judge tells people to arm themselves because the ciops can no longer protect YOU!


He should have been arrested a long time ago for that haircut alone!

Many many people undergo chemotherapy without turning violent. Have you considered that brain metastasis or pre-existing mental illness is a far more likely cause of this behavior, than dementia secondary to chemotherapeutic agents ?
Secondly, is this man's address important to anyone, or does it make his family a target for other mentally ill people ?
Please just report the news and leave out the speculation. It's bad enough now that American News is so biased and tells us what to think. The newspapers don't need to do this too.

The authorities should look twice at this guy, does anyone recall the murders on the parkway many years ago, this guy could be a serial killer, who shoots people at random????Duh..

Great background story. The Hook is the best investigative media around.
Yeah, they've got the criminal investigation beat covered.

I'm wondering if this was simply a random act of violence or if Jackson targeted these two by choice.

Boooo!, your argument is around a third grade level!

Ha Ha Ha, I couldn't resist! :)

It's just people trying to drum up participation on their own web sites. Like the person the other day who said, "Boo Hoo Hoo, I hate GSOE, I am going back to C'ville!" A subliminal message to people who would start thinking "hmmmm, what is C'Ville and should I check the place out maybe?"

Kimberly, in the link you posted, Spingola is just like everybody else concerning what they want people to know, and what they don't want people to know. He doesn't mention one word about Shomo actually picking a Virginia state trooper out as her assailant during a photo lineup.

I don't feel bad for the shooter one bit. These guys always "seem like nice, normal people". They aren't! This is why its so important to listen to each other and get to know who we really are. Also, I don't think his health issues had anything to do with it. Dementia would actually render him incapable of planning something like this.

You guys can dish GSOE all you want...he has the skin of an alligator...can't eat him either if you do kill him....he's too tough.

Great background story. The Hook is the best investigative media around.

To the contrary Nancy Drew, I find third grade reporter most irritating.

You guys that don't like the reporting...

.... why do you come here and read it?

If you ain't got nothing good to say, don't say it! I have the monopoly on breaking this commandment! :)

To the contrary Sally, I find this to be a terrific job of reporting; getting the background to help understand the individual that was arrested for this crime, but has yet to be convicted. No other news organization in our area gives us the specifics that we consistently find in the Hook's reporting. Excellent interviews with those who knew Mr. Jackson best, and can explain what was happening in his life that may have contributed to his behavior.

Gasbag writes, "I am the #1 expert on Me and all the things that have happened to Me! Let me tell you all about it!"

Why the heck are people calling this "third grade reporting"? Bitter Betty much? Seriously, what are you people even talking about? The Hook isn't 100% perfect, but there's no doubt that they really get in there and get details that no other news outlet in this area does. If you want the real scoop on something that's happening around here, The Hook is pretty much the only source to go to. And the writing is always pretty riveting. So, third grade my ass. I don't know what you people are talking about. Just sounds to me like Bitter Bettys who don't like the Hook, so they make up complaints that actually don't fit.

Dementia most assuredly is at issue here, as by definition random assaults like this are the acts of crazy people. However, it shouldn't be allowed as an excuse for acquittal. We have a growing problem in this country (and the world), too many deranged people armed with guns. Our mental health services have been gutted, probably never to be reinstated. Instead, we will fulfill our destiny as a violent species and resort to mutual mayhem instead of addressing the source(s) of the illness.

I've seen better reporting in a middle school newsletter. Could someone at the HOOK please pay for some basic writing classes for your staff?

Please let's not speculate a heart attack or chemotherapy contributed to this man randomly shooting these innocent people. I already see his defense in the making. How pitiful. Bless these victims.

I'd caution against printing this guy's address, even if it is easily found by other means. The family had nothing to do with this tragedy. Their privacy deserves to be respected no matter what their husband/father did. They are victims in this, too. To a much lesser degree, granted. No argument there. But they are still victims.

One other thing...working in a auto repair shop as a painter's assistant...I would imagine he had the opportunity to access customer's cars and could have easily changed the paint color of his own.

Everyone always says that "He was the nicest guy -- I never would have guessed!" How do they expect a crazed murderer to act? To walk around drooling and making growly noises like the Tasmanian Devil? Kicking the dogs in the park as they walk past? Slamming their kid in the middle of Wal- .... oh wait. A predator could be ANYBODY and never ever ever ignore your danger radar.

I'm very frustrated with the fact that this article does not read like James Joyce's "Ulysses." C'mon. I expect more...

the neighbors of Buckwheat's assassin.

Reporter: Did he even mention wanting to kill Buckwheat?

Neighbor: That's all he ever talked about.

No one wants to eat rotten old roadkill anyway, jbo

"Everyone always says that ââ?¬Å?He was the nicest guy ââ?¬â? I never would have guessed!”

Yeah, they do always say that, don't they? It makes me seriously question the people saying it. There probably was a ton of indicators that this guy was mentally off, and they're either lying, or they were too dumb to notice.

I have not heard any speculation on who might have been the tipster who alerted authorities at 2:00 A.M. The vague description of a red auto and a middle-age man with graying hair fits thousands. My suspician is that a family member and in all probability his spouse turned the tables on him.