The maternal grandmother of Mia Rodgers – the slain 9-year-old whose paternal grandfather is accused of shooting her to death last week – on Monday called the accused killer a “monster” who was “obsessed” with the child.
Nina Rodgers said Mia apparently was shot just hours after she had seen a doctor.
“How can somebody kill a sick child?” Rodgers said, weeping uncontrollably. “It is just sick.”
Ronald Fred Gregory, 67, Mia’s paternal grandfather, is named in warrants on two counts of murder, which under state law would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
Police say Gregory shot and killed Mia and his wife, Barbara Gregory, 71, at their Rock Hill home sometime Thursday or Friday, before shooting himself twice.
Nina and Paul Rodgers have been in a custody battle over Mia with the Gregorys and Mia’s father, Kevin Gregory. They sat down for an exclusive interview with The Herald on Monday at their home.
Paul Rodgers said the Gregorys lied to court officials about their roles in Mia’s life in an attempt to get custody, which the Rodgerses had had for years.
“If they never told lies to begin with, this never would have happened,” Paul Rodgers said.
Ronald Gregory took Mia to see a doctor on Thursday because she had been coughing up blood, Nina and Paul Rodgers said.
During a phone call on Thursday, Paul Rodgers said, Ronald Gregory was “awful nervous.” Rodgers said Gregory was “obsessed” with Mia and that he and his wife had concerns about Mia’s treatment before last week’s killings.
“We want answers,” Paul Rodgers said. “We want to know what happened ... because Mia did not deserve to die.”
Police records show Ronald Gregory called 911 at about 10:30 a.m. Friday and told emergency dispatchers to send police and EMS to his home, then hung up. Police found the body of Barbara Gregory on the living room floor. They found Mia’s body in her bed.
Gregory admitted to the shootings, according to a York County Sheriff’s report, and told deputies he had shot himself twice.
It remained unclear Monday exactly when Barbara Gregory and Mia were killed. York County Coroner Sabrina Gast confirmed Monday that both died from gunshot wounds, but neither had other injuries. Gast said she could not confirm that Mia had been treated at a doctor or that she had been spitting up blood.
The custody battle
The sets of grandparents had been in a custody battle over Mia at the time of the killings. The Gregorys had been awarded custody in October after they and their son, Kevin Gregory, filed lawsuits in both Texas and South Carolina.
In court documents, the Gregorys claimed Mia stayed with them in 2005 and that they had visitation on weekends. Kevin Gregory claimed in documents that his parents raised Mia until 2008 and that he paid for day care. He also claimed to have lived with Paul and Nina Rodgers for several weeks after Mia was born.
Paul and Nina Rodgers said Monday that all of those claims were false.
However, Family Court Judge Robert Guess ruled that no evidence was presented to the court in an emergency custody hearing in September that either of Mia’s parents, or any of the grandparents, was unfit to care for Mia. He awarded temporary custody of Mia to the Gregorys.
A guardian ad litem appointed by the court to look out for Mia’s best interests wrote in a court document dated Feb. 27: “Mia has established some sense of family with her father. It would be in her best interest to still maintain the connection and bond as a family with her father.”
But Kevin Gregory did not have custody after October; Ronald and Barbara Gregory did.
Paul and Nina Rodgers maintain that they raised Mia from just after birth until she was about 7, when Mia’s mother finished college and moved to Texas. Mia lived with her mother, Angie Lee Benoit, in Texas until 2013, when Benoit was diagnosed with leukemia. She died in November.
Before she died, Benoit tried to have Kevin Gregory’s parental rights terminated. Benoit and her brother, who also has gone to court to get custody of Mia, claimed in court documents that Kevin Gregory and his parents had a minimal role in Mia’s life, that he did not pay child support and that he was out of Mia’s life for months at a time.
Paul and Nina Rodgers say the Gregorys had weekend visitation when Mia was younger but that they never raised her. They claim that the guardian had been “suckered” by misinformation given in court filings about the Gregorys’ role in Mia’s upbringing.
Kevin Gregory was at his parents’ home Monday but declined to comment when asked about the deaths of his daughter and mother and the custody battle.
After they lost custody of Mia, Paul and Nina Rodgers hired a lawyer in an attempt to reverse the judge’s ruling.
In a text message sent by Angie Benoit to her mother on Sept. 13, Benoit wrote, “Keep Ronnie away from Mia at all costs.”
The October ruling gave Paul and Nina Rodgers visitation every other weekend, despite their claims that they had raised Mia. The day Mia was found dead, she was scheduled to go to the Rodgers home for the weekend.
“We are just really, really saddened and we hope that there will be justice for Mia,” Paul Rodgers said.
Mia’s funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, but Paul and Nina Rodgers said they have not been told of those plans by Kevin Gregory.
Ronald Gregory had no criminal record, according to a family court report during the custody battle.
Kathryn Williams, Mia’s former babysitter who calls herself a close friend of the Gregorys, said she spoke with Barbara Gregory just days before she was killed. She said Ronald Gregory was a loving, caring grandparent who she never saw lose his temper with Mia.
“I am just stunned, shocked at what happened,” Williams said. “I don’t know – he had to snap.”