Steven Gass said he woke up to a phone call around 3 a.m., his mother panicked on the other end.
He said Dorothy Gass told him on Jan. 1 that his children were in danger. Supposedly, she told him his estranged wife, Amy Gass, had just called her, claiming she was going to kill the children and herself. Dorothy Gass said she called 911. He said he didn't believe anything she said.
"Amy is a great mom," he told the Times Free Press in an interview last week. "She would never say anything like that."
He said Dorothy Gass has memory problems, the result of dementia and a stroke she suffered last summer. She sometimes talks about long-dead relatives as if they were in the room the day before. And about a month earlier, Steven Gass said, she got lost in Fort Oglethorpe for six hours, until an officer found her outside Food City.
Steven Gass, a paramedic, said he flipped on his phone's scanner app after the call from his mother last week. Almost immediately, he heard dispatchers calling for an ambulance to a home on Meadowview Lane in Rossville. It was his in-laws' home.
"'The kids were hurt,'" he said he thought to himself. "'Amy was hurt.' I had a million things going through my head."
But, Dorothy Gass did not report violence; she triggered it. Walker County deputies responded to her 911 call and found Mark Parkinson, Steven Gass' father-in-law, in the kitchen with a gun. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, deputies told Mark Parkinson to drop the gun. Instead, he pointed it toward them, and Deputy John Chandler shot and killed him.
Larry Stagg, an attorney for the family, told the Walker County Messenger last week there had been no violence before Dorothy Gass' call that night. The family woke up at 3 a.m. when deputies arrived, but Stagg said they didn't know who was outside. Their three dogs barked loudly, and somebody banged on the window. That's when Mark Parkinson grabbed his gun.
The GBI is investigating the shooting and will turn the evidence over to Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, who will decide whether to pursue charges or take the case before a grand jury. Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said his agency is also running an internal inquiry to make sure deputies on scene responded appropriately.
The relationship between Steven Gass and his wife's family is complicating. He said he had a rough childhood in a secluded part of Sand Mountain. His father went to prison when Steven Gass was 5, and he moved away from his home when he was 16. He said Mark Parkinson and his wife, Diana Parkinson, were like parents to him.
But in 2012, Catoosa County court records show, Amy Gass applied for a restraining order against Steven Gass. And four months ago, she filed for divorce from him. Stagg told the Walker County Messenger that Amy Gass received full custody of the children because of Steven Gass' past violent behavior.
But Steven Gass said he had no ill will toward his wife or her parents. He said the shooting last week was the result of a tragic misunderstanding. He said he brought GBI agents to interview his mother last week, and she maintains that she heard Amy Gass make threats. Steven Gass said he still doesn't believe his mother.
"I'm so mad at her, honestly," he said. "I don't want to talk to her. I know she believes [what she reported], but I know it could never have happened."
The Times Free Press could not find a second person to confirm that Dorothy Gass struggles with memory loss. When asked about Steven Gass' claims, GBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Ramey said, "That's something obviously we will be investigating."
Stagg did not return an email or a call last week. A Fort Oglethorpe police officer said he could not find a report about Dorothy Gass going missing, as Steven Gass told the Times Free Press, but an officer could have helped her without filing any paperwork on the incident. Diana Parkinson declined to comment, saying she is too emotional at this time to speak about the details.
Mark Parkinson served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and worked for a concrete company, Steven Gass said. He later worked as a nurse. In retirement, he enjoyed remodeling homes.
Rick Cole, whose kids sang with Mark Parkinson's in the Ridgeland High School choir, said he was an active volunteer, helping to build sets and chaperone group trips. He remembers Mark Parkinson as a friendly handyman who enjoyed watching the children perform.
Dion Potter said he and Mark Parkinson worked on home projects together. He said he and Diana were warm, insisting that visitors stay for dinner.
He said Mark Parkinson told him he had a gun, but he never showed it off. Potter believes he had the weapon only for protection. He is frustrated by how the sheriff's office handled the call.
"If I was awakened at 3 o'clock in the morning with my dogs barking and I had to make sure somebody was not in my house, I would have done verbatim the same thing," he said. "I would have gotten up, canvassed my house, made sure everything is OK."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.