By DEBBIE HALL AND BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writers
William Robert “Robbie” McKinney confided Sunday that it had been a bad few days, according to Brittany Martin, who was working alone at Price’s Minute Market that afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, she alleged, McKinney robbed her and tied her up. It was one of a series of events police attribute to McKinney, whom they identified Monday as the man found dead Sunday evening following an hours-long standoff on Pony Place. He died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said.
McKinney entered Price’s on Bridge Street around 1:50 p.m. Sunday, according to a time stamp on the store’s surveillance video, which showed him walking up to the store on foot, Martin said.
“He walked in like it was a regular day,” she said. “When he came in, he acted like he was going to buy food or something.”
McKinney asked her if the grill was still open, and she told him it was. He then asked if she had to run the store by herself.
When he found out that she was the only employee in the store at the time, Martin said McKinney told her, “It sucks for you.”
“He told me he’d had a bad few days and he wasn’t good at this,” Martin said, and then he laid a revolver on the counter.
McKinney allegedly took her purse, and although Martin said she tried to keep her car keys away from him, she was told “if I kept playing games, he would take me with him. So I finally gave him the keys to my car.”
Martin said she then was tied up, using a cord cut from a space heater behind the counter and cords on the back of the cigarette racks behind the counter. From behind the racks, Martin said, she heard the exhaust on her vehicle as it left the parking lot.
She was able to free herself and call police.
Martin’s empty vehicle was found at 2:26 p.m. Sunday, parked at Rudy’s Upholstery on Memorial Boulevard, authorities have said.
Less than 15 minutes earlier, authorities recovered another vehicle allegedly taken by McKinney.
According to reports of that incident, McKinney allegedly abducted a woman and her three children in a van from the 500 block of Mulberry Road.
After the van was directed to a BB&T ATM and $100 was withdrawn, the woman and children were freed unharmed at 10:26 a.m. at the Scrub Board Laundromat on Liberty Street, police have said.
Interim Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady said it appeared the abduction was random and that McKinney did not know the victims.
Authorities recovered the van at 2:13 p.m. Sunday, parked near Pony Place on Fayette Street.
On Pony Place
Near where the van was parked, in a home at 122 Pony Place, Rita Piggott said McKinney was visiting her husband, Fritz Piggott.
McKinney “was my husband’s friend. Him and my husband would kick it and have a nice time. They would sit down and talk and everything” whenever McKinney visited, Piggott said Monday.
But Sunday was different, she said. Shortly after McKinney arrived at the home on 122 Pony Place, a girl from the neighborhood knocked on the door and told the Piggotts there were several law enforcement officers on the street, Piggott said.
When an officer told her that authorities were searching for a “white man with a bald head,” Rita Piggott said, “I went back in that house” and told her husband what was going on.
Piggott said her husband asked McKinney if he was being sought by authorities. “He said ‘No.’ ... I told him, ‘You got to go. You’ve got to go. Get out of my house,” she recalled.
McKinney replied, “I won’t go. I won’t go. I won’t go,” Rita Piggott said. She and her husband then decided to go outside, where they were met by authorities.
“They told me and my husband not to go back in the house,” she said.
A mother’s plea
A crowd gathered near the standoff scene Sunday afternoon, including McKinney’s mother, Karen Nance.
She arrived on Pony Place late Sunday afternoon after hearing about the incident through the media.
“Robbie, it’s your mother. Talk to me, please,” she yelled from about two houses above where the standoff occurred. “Robbie ... please.”
There was no response to her plea from anyone in the house.
There also was no response from the police when she asked for a bullhorn so she could attempt to talk with her son.
“Does anybody here have compassion?” she asked. Later, she said, “If he talks to anyone, it would be me.”
Nance said her son, whom she called Robbie, had called her about 6:30 a.m. Sunday and they talked briefly.
“He sounded pretty good. ... Something must have happened,” she said.
When authorities were granted permission to search the home, and after officers announced that they were entering, a single shot was heard, Cassady has said.
Authorities had tried to talk to McKinney, but “we never had any contact with him verbally,” Cassady said.
A Danville Police Department battering ram on an armored personnel carrier (APC) was used to break down the front door. Later, a window on the front of the house was taken out by a Virginia State Police battering ram on its APC. A state police bomb-detecting robot — equipped with a camera — went to the home. It provided authorities with a layout of the home and had the ability to detect any movement.
Not long after that, a SWAT team entered the home and found McKinney dead in a back room of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, police have said.
“He was in my kitchen by the washroom when he shot himself in the head ... He didn’t tell us nothing,” Rita Piggott said. “I cleaned up the blood myself.”
McKinney, 37, of Collinsville, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Some neighbors said they had heard that McKinney said he would not go back to jail.
According to online inmate records, McKinney was sentenced in March 2002 following a conviction on a charge of second-degree murder in Rockingham County, N.C. The inmate records showed that he was released from prison on May 4, 2012. His parole ended on Jan. 29, 2013, records showed.
Martin, the store clerk, said that although she did not know McKinney or his story, the situation was sad.
“What did it prove?” she asked rhetorically. “That was his last day on earth.”