The teenage brother of a man charged with murdering his father and seven others in a mobile home insisted he would never harm his family and said a dispute over drugs could have prompted the killings.
Family members spoke to reporters outside a mass graveside funeral for members of a family massacred a week earlier inside the home they shared near the Georgia coast.
Their grief was mixed with shock after police charged 22-year-old Guy Heinze with eight counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his father, uncle, aunt and four cousins. The eighth victim was a boyfriend of one of the cousins.
“I know my brother didn’t do this. My brother has a conscience,” 16-year-old Tyler Heinze said outside the rural cemetery where seven coffins topped with roses rested atop freshly dug graves.
“I can say there was drug involvement in the house and I think somebody ripped somebody off and somebody needed to get their money back.
“Maybe somebody in the house double-crossed someone. It could have been my brother who double-crossed somebody, and it could be part of his fault that somebody came in there and did this.”
Police have refused to say how the victims died or what evidence they had against Heinze, who reported the gruesome scene to authorities on August 29 in a chilling emergency call, frantically telling a dispatcher: “My whole family’s dead.”
He said they appeared to have been beaten to death when he found them.
Heinze had been put in custody soon after the murders on suspicion of illegal possession of prescription drugs and marijuana, as well as lying to police and evidence tampering.
Tyler Heinze would not speak in detail about drug use at the mobile home.
“I’m not going to sit here and ruin my family’s name,” he said. “I don’t want people to think my family was trash. They were hard-working people.”
William Heinze said his jailed grandson had building jobs hanging drywall and wanted to be a lorry driver like his father. He said the family called him “Little Guy”, until he outgrew his father.
“He loved his dad,” Mr Heinze said. “I just can’t believe it, unless they really had some proof.”
Dozens gathered Saturday for the funeral at the Young’s Island Community Church of God in McIntosh County, about 20 miles north of the mobile home park where the murders occurred in neighbouring Glynn County.
The copper-coloured coffin of the family patriarch, 44-year-old Rusty Toler, sat beneath a green tent with the coffins of his two sons, Russell, 20, and Michael, 19, on either side. In front of them were two white coffins containing Mr Toler’s daughters, 22-year-old Chrissy and 15-year-old Michelle.
Beside the Toler men sat the coffins of Mr Toler’s sister Brenda Falagan, 49.
Draped in an American flag, a nod to his prior US Army service, was 45-year-old Guy Heinze senior. He and Mr Toler had been inseparable since childhood and referred to each other as brothers, though they were not blood relations, William Heinze said.
One victim, identified by police as Chrissy Toler’s three-year-old son, Byron Jimerson, survived with critical injuries and remained in hospital in Savannah.
Joseph West, Chrissy Toler’s boyfriend and the eighth victim, had enlisted Heinze a few times to help work on his family’s shrimp boat, said Otis West, the murdered man’s brother. He said he did not know Heinze well, but he seemed like “a good guy”.
“To tell the truth, if you had ever been around him, he didn’t seem like anybody who would do something like this,” Mr West said. “But you never know.”
Clint Rowe, a family spokesman, said relatives were still shocked at Heinze’s arrest.
“It floored them,” said Mr Rowe, an uncle by marriage to the four Toler children. “He was part of the family.”
Heinze was among 10 people living in the 980 sq ft home that Mr Toler, whom he considered an uncle, rented for £248 a month.