Troubling texts preceded Father’s Day murder of wife and two children

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CHESTERFIELD, Va. --Renotta Jernigan and her two children were murdered just eight days after friends say she told her husband Barry C. Jernigan she wanted a divorce.

Renotta, 30, and Barry, 35, who went by Chris, had been married for six years. According to Renotta’s lifelong friend Courtney Winn, Renotta was upset by his inability to keep a job and she “was over it.”

Chris has worked the past four months at EcoLab, and told Courtney’s husband that he was having trouble keeping that job due to problems with Renotta.

On Father’s Day Chris sent out a goodbye via his work email that read: “God give me the strength not to do this.”

His last Facebook post was “Just pray for my kids they understand." Renotta posted a comment asking him to call her.

A final text read “Goodbye everyone."

"I wanted to tell you that I am sorry,” the texts sent to Courtney from Chris read. "I really am sorry for misjudging you. You are a great friend to Renotta.  You've been there for her when I never was and I thank you for that.  That is all I have to say so take it as you want."

“Hating her is the only way I can breathe on my own.  I guess I can say is that I love to hate her and hate loving her."

Courtney warned Renotta of her husband's disturbing messages, and it would be the last time she would ever get a text back from the woman she considered her sister.

Several friends moved quickly to intervene after receiving these messages. They came so close to getting police to Renotta.

Around 10 p.m. Sunday night, police were tracking Chris’ workphone, friends said.

When they arrived to the family home, police heard multiple gunshots, as did neighbors. Police found neighbors attempting to aid Jernigan and her 2-year-old son, Seth, who had both been shot.

Police found Chris and Lexi Kellas, Renotta’s daughter from a previous marriage, shot dead inside the house.

“Apparently it started in Lexi's room and they heard Renotta scream, gunshots, Renotta screaming again and then more gunshots and then went in to get them and save Renotta and the baby and they couldn't,” Courtney said.

Retired Marine Gary Nguyen was watching TV with his brother Harry Nguyen when they heard gunshots.

"We turned off TV, made sure area was dark as we approached porch so we couldn't be seen," said Harry Nguyen.

He found Renotta choking on her own blood, in the front yard. He, along with another neighbor who is a nurse, began performing CPR.

"I shouted Gary there is a little one in the house go check on her," said Harry.

Gary ran inside, unsure if a shooter was on the loose.

"We just wanted to save someone, help somebody," Gary Nguyen said.

He found Chris on the floor with a bullet hole in his head, a gun by his feet. In another bedroom he found their 2 -year-old son shot in the head and barely clinging to life.

"It was the worst thing I ever saw, made my heart broken," said Gary Nguyen.

Gary and the nurse carried the boy outside and started CPR on him, the brothers were covered in blood when an ambulance arrived. Both say they tried as hard as they could to save lives.

Jernigan died on scene. The child later died at the hospital.

Courtney’s husband Benjamin Winn says that Chris came over the day before the murders said he had spoken to a lawyer and the only thing he really wanted was for her to move out.

He believed that Chris had come to terms with the impending split from Renotta until reading the Facebook post Sunday night. The family was dead an hour later.

"Chris was like ‘I can't live without her,’ and none of us took that as he couldn't live without her, so nobody else was going to--and he just took her from all of us."

Chris had helped raise his stepdaughter Lexi since she was three. Seth was the toddler that Renotta and Chris conceived. Chris has a 13-year-old son who was not at the house.

“She was happy, she was so happy, that woman smiled so much in every picture it was perfect,” her best friend said.

A “Renotta Jernigan and Children Benefit Fund” was set-up to assist the family with burial costs. Donations can be made at any Bank of McKenney branch.

The investigation into the shooting remains on-going, police said. Anyone with any information should contact the Chesterfield County Police 804-748-1251.




  • Lisette d. Johnson

    He didn’t snap. He knew exactly what he planned to do. My heart and prayers go out to the family and friends left to try to make any sense of this senseless selfish act of violence. May Renotta and her children to comforted in the peaceful arms of their maker.

    • Norma Earls

      My opinion, he was a controlling manipulator. That’s why he couldn’t keep a job. Abusers that control can’t keep jobs because it interferes w/ their ability to keep tabs on whomever they are controlling. He murdered those children because that was the ultimate revenge against the woman who had the audacity to think she could leave his control. He didn’t murder his older son because his mother wasn’t his target. Controllers are selfish cowards who could not care less about anyone but themselves.

      • Katrina B.

        Your comment is so true Norma Earls. Directly hitting the nail on the head. I pondered for a second over why he would kill the kids within the home, but has a older son whom he let live. In his twisted mind he wanted to torture his wife in her last minutes of life by letting her feel the excruciating pain of knowing her kids are being murdered & she bare witness to it.

  • Liz

    God bless the men who tried to save them. What an awful scene to have to remember in their minds for quite a long time I’m sure. Prayers to the families and friends of the victims.

  • Becky Kemble

    Sadly until family courts are fixed where divorce and custody are involved we will see this happen often.there needs to be a 50/50equal unilateral custody fo both FIT parent’s.Men espically know as soon as the word divorce comes up.they will be a weekend visitor/paycheck to their kids.Murder is NEVER the answer!! Don’t get my words twisted but it would stop 98% of the violence via divorce..(((fact)))

  • Eric

    I agree. What he did was terrible, but men always take it in the shorts when it comes to divorce court. He was facing the loss of his family, child support, alimony (even though it’s not 1974 anymore), legal fees, a mortgage, all while struggling to keep a job in today’s economy. He snapped. Human beings have breaking points. When a woman snaps and drives her mini-van into a river with the kids strapped in the seats, everyone clamors that she should have had some help. When a man snaps, he’s just considered an animal.

    Everyone knows that almost half of all marriages end in divorce, but what people don’t know is that women initiate 74% of the divorces and almost always get custody of the kids. I can’t think of a single good reason why a man would want to get married these days, but it’s still a cash cow for women. You can bet that had this not ended in tragedy, she would have gotten the house, the kids, and everything else. He would have watched his family shatter and walk away in financial ruins. Don’t be so quick to judge the man. I’m not defending his actions, I’m merely pointing out that he reached his breaking point and here we are today.

    • tasha

      So the best way out is to kill your family? I get that youre saying you are not trying to defend his actions but you kinda are. And the woman who drove her kids into the river is just as bad as this man. They all need help, but its to late.

      • Eric

        No Tasha, what he did was horrible.On that I agree with you. I’m only saying he was pushed to the edge. No one knows for sure what goes on behind closed doors though. If you’ve ever been married you know that it takes two to tango.

    • sw

      You are so full of it. Most divorces are not implemented by women. A good amount of men who divorce their wives also divorce their children and choose to be deadbeat dads. You really need to do more research. Most men never pay even close to half of the money it takes to raise a child. You don’t get alimony around here unless the other spouse is super rich and you have been married for years with the other spouse is staying home most of the time. Let’s not be biased here, this has nothing to do with alimony or child support. It has everything to do with a man who chose to take a gun and shoot his 2 year old in the head (who can look at a baby and shoot them) along with the rest of his then family. Take your man cause for being ripped off by a woman to another page.

      • Eric

        You’ve obviously haven’t bothered to do any research on the matter, but I have. I say again…women file 74% of the time. On the alimony issue, every state is different, but in the Commonwealth of Virginia alimony is awarded a significant part of the time, which is why so many women turn into gold-diggers who use the kids to leverage more money from the man in court. It’s just a fact. You say it’s a “man cause”…you’ll see it differently when a man in your family (a son or a brother) gets his family torn apart and his financial well-being destroyed. It seems like the average woman, when she stands before the alter and says “for better or for worse”, has her fingers crossed behind her back and a little smirk on her face.

  • Dan

    I am curious why friends find it necessary to publicize all these intimate details to a press who is really there to gain maximum viewership/readership. Remember, what he did was twisted, but chatting up the self-serving press 48 hours after the tragedy is also pretty indicative of the warped society we have become. Wouldn’t it be great if all involved could simply say “no comment”?

    • Lynn

      Have been thinking the very same thing Dan. This information should have been provided to the police and that is it. No personal interviews with the press.
      Must not have been a very good friend…

  • sw

    First I want to say my thoughts are with the friends and family of these victims. This is a clear example why when you think your husband is controlling or can’t handle the truth you don’t tell them before you have gotten the hell out with your kids. I cannot believe there were no signs this man had issues. She should have left that house first before ever telling him she wanted a divorce.

  • Eric

    Statistically, women commit acts of domestic violence against their significant other more often than men. However, there are two major differences:

    1. Men are less likely to report it.
    2. They are less lethal than men. When a man does it, serious damage happens.

    American culture cheers when a woman is violent towards a man. We laugh when we hear about women like Lorena Bobbit or Jodi Arias. In the movie, “The Big Wedding”, the character played by Robert Dinero is repeatedly punched by various women through the story line and everyone laughs and laughs. I doubt they’d laugh if the roles were reversed. When it comes to accountability there are lower expectations for women. I’m not defending what Chris Jernigan did, but I am saying no one knows what goes on behind closed doors except for the parties who live there. If you married, you know what I’m talking about.

  • L. Cook

    What he did was horrible he is evil and he is a monster and my prayers are with the families. He knew exactly what he was going to do and to take the life of those innocent children it just breaks my heart that they all had to go through this. I could not imagine what this woman was going through at that time and what those children were going through all because of some heartless,selfish, and cruel person who couldn’t deal with life and reality.

  • Johnny the Nose

    I see the MRA trolls, like Eric, are already fouling up the comments section with their twisted, sick agenda. The man shot his son in his crib but it’s Mom’s fault, huh? Go away.

  • Shelly

    If this were a black family, the comments would be soooo much different. There wouldnt be so much sympathy. Sad, but true.

  • Lisa

    Eric, you are a fool. “Ultimately, the overall economic quality of a man’s life, based on earnings and amount spent on living expenses, increases after his divorce. He continues to earn more but bears fewer family expenses. The overall economic quality of a woman’s life, post-divorce, decreases.” Women bear the brunt of child care and if the father decides not to pay child support, she has to pay the legal expenses of taking him to court and hiring an attorney. Not all states have alimony; in Alabama it’s practically non-existent. Unfortunately, because a woman’s economic quality of life decreases, so does the life of the children.

    • Craig_the_Candid

      You are wrong, and because you are wearing your feminist blinders, you missed his point.

      Women are very utilitarian when it comes to their relationships with men. It’s all about the money. She wanted to dump him because he was having a hard time keeping a job (read: it’s the money). She knew she would get the house, alimony, and child support. He knew he was going to lose his family. Men are ALWAYS portrayed deadbeats (by women just like you). They rarely get custody of the kids, and child support and alimony if they do? Forget about it.

      If the roles were reversed and he wanted to dump her for losing her job, and she subsequently flipped and carried out an act of horrible violence, everyone would feel sorry for her, many would say they don’t blame her, but when it’s a man, he’s held to a higher standard because women just can’t cut it.

  • jeda

    You guys are the most judgemental people I have ever came across. To even assume she was only in the marriage for the money is absolutely speculation. It is obvious she loved this man or she wouldn’t have stuck it out as long as she did while he continued to get fired from every job he ever worked. Maybe when today’s men wake up and realize that women are equal and are not put on earth to serve you then the divorce rate might change. Craig and Eric just keep blaming women for your momma problems see how far that gets you. My heart goes out to all the innocent people involved. May this man R.I.H (rott in hell)

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