Laytonville slaying victims all family members

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A troubled teen who had been welcomed into the home of a Laytonville family and treated like a son turned suddenly on that family over the weekend in what authorities described Monday as an act of cold-blooded violence, with the young man using a large kitchen knife to repeatedly stab four people, killing two he knew well and critically wounding two others, according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Sunday’s violence stunned the tiny rural community as word spread that local doctor Cindy Norvell, 54, was critically wounded, her son Teo Palmieri, 17, and husband, Coleman Palmieri, 52, were killed in the attack. Norvell’s 52-year-old brother, who was visiting from Canada with his 15-year-old daughter, suffered life-threatening wounds.

Norvell and Palmieri’s 14-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old female cousin were also at home during the midnight attack on the sleeping family. They were not injured but were severely traumatized by the young man, who after the attacks still carried the bloody knife and ordered one of the girls to tie up Norvell’s injured brother and the other girl with phone cord yanked from the wall, according to authorities.

Sheriff’s detectives still are trying to determine what sparked the deadly bloody rampage on a family who had taken in suspect Talen Clark Barton, now 19, when he was a troubled 17-year-old junior at Laytonville High. Barton was close friends with Teo Palmieri, who had convinced his parents to give Barton a home.

“They took him in as if he were a family member,” sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney said.

“That family wanted so much to help Talen get on his feet, get him through high school, get into college,” said Denise Shields, who for 10 years raised Barton and his older brother at her home in Laytonville. “They were beautiful, wonderful people who took him in. I’m in shock. Total shock.”

The violence ended with Barton giving himself up without incident to deputies who arrived at the house, on a wooded lot off South Meadow Lane, about two miles northwest of town.

The crime struck neighbors as otherworldly. Properties in the rural subdivision range from 8 to 12 acres and deer wander between the forested lots.

“I couldn’t believe that could happen here,” neighbor Darlene Lewis said.

“It’s just tragic,” said Kendra Dabney, who helps manage the local hardware store.

After the attacks, Barton, a routine marijuana user according to authorities, reportedly smoked marijuana and was calmed by the 15-year-old family cousin and a rookie 911 dispatcher who kept Barton on the line for almost 30 minutes, getting him to set down the knife and distracting him from the girls, Barney said.

The lieutenant credited both the 15-year-old and the dispatcher with possibly preventing further violence.

“It could have been the difference between them living and dying,” Barney said.

On Monday, Norvell was being treated at Redding’s Mercy Hospital. She was informed of the death of her husband and son by a sheriff’s sergeant who drove to the hospital to tell her in person. Norvell’s brother was being treated at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Barton remained in the Mendocino County Jail. He was due to be arraigned today in Mendocino County Court and charged with eight felonies, including special circumstances that could allow prosecutors to push for the death penalty. The charges include two counts of homicide, two of attempted homicide, use of a knife, killing multiple people and falsely imprisoning the girls.

The attack stands in sharp contrast to the more routine type of violence in rural Mendocino County, including incidents often triggered by or involving marijuana operations and other drug-related disputes, sheriff’s officials said.

The deaths prompted the third homicide investigation in Mendocino County this year. The grim toll of Sunday’s attack, however, including multiple family members killed and injured in a single, vicious rampage, stand out from the other cases, sheriff’s officials said Monday.

“They shock the system,” said Barney, who supervises violent crime investigations.

Laytonville, a community of about 1,100, sits along Highway 101, about 25 miles north of Willits.

The victims were members of a well-known and respected family, according to friends, town residents, neighbors and co-workers.

Coleman Palmieri was an electrician and builder who taught juggling to children and had started a juggling club.

Teo was set to start his senior year at Laytonville High School, where last year he was on the mock trial team.

“They were a wonderful family,” family friend Trish Steel said.

Norvell is one of Laytonville’s two general practice doctors and has worked out of the Long Valley Clinic for 16 years.

Friends described her as the kind of person who goes beyond what’s expected to help people.

“People love her,” Steel said.

Clinic clients Monday were dropping off gifts for Norvell, said Rod Grainger, the clinic’s executive director.

Steel said she did not know the children well, but said Teo was on the quiet side and polite. He and the suspect participated on “Teens Speak Out,” a radio program on the county’s public radio station, KZYX.

“They were friends. They were good friends,” Steel said.

Sunday’s attack started in Teo Palmieri’s bedroom. Armed with a 12-inch chef’s knife, Barton allegedly went into the room and began stabbing his friend.

“A very violent struggle ensued,” Barney said. The mother came to the aid of her son and was attacked, he said. She was not named Monday by authorities but local residents identified her as Norvell.

Coleman Palmieri rushed in to help his wife and son and was stabbed as well, Barney said.

The mother then ran downstairs, chased by Barton, Barney said. Detectives believe she was seeking to make a phone call for help. At that point, Norvell’s brother — who was not named Monday but who Barney said lives in the city of St. John’s, in Newfoundland, Canada — tried to come to her aid and was attacked.

The four victims were stabbed multiple times in the neck and chest, and the two survivors suffered life-threatening wounds. Norvell was flown to the Redding hospital and her brother to Santa Rosa Memorial.

After the attacks, Barton still carried the knife and had ordered one of the girls to tie up the critically injured man — Norvell’s brother — and then tie up the other girl. He also told them he was leaving and to give him until 8 a.m. before they called for help so he could get transportation and get away, according to sheriff’s officials.

The 15-year-old girl talked to him and convinced him to let her call 911 to get help. She made the call and then he took the phone and told the dispatcher he had stabbed four people and that two were dead, Barney said.

The dispatcher, on the job for just nine months, was able to talk Barton down and convinced him to put down the knife and surrender to the four deputies who first arrived on scene, Barney said.

“He simply walked outside and gave himself up,” Barney said.

Barney said part of the investigation in the next few weeks will include numerous interviews and inquiries into Barton’s life.

“At least one person, maybe two, have said in the past several weeks he had been mentioning about killing people. We have very little information on that. We’re trying to follow up to see if that was part of it,” Barney said.

Shields, who reared Barton, said he had moved out of her home when he was a junior at Laytonville High School, after he’d threatened her with a 15-pound hand weight. He was arrested after the January 2013 incident. Throughout the court proceedings against Barton, the Norvell-Palmieri family stood by him, attending court hearings and working with Shields to transition him into their home, Shields said.

After he moved out, Shields said she searched his room and under his bed found what she believed were weapons, including a hammer, an axe, a saw and what appeared to be a homemade spear. She said after the incident with the weight Barton had repeatedly threatened to kill her, prompting her to move from the area.

Shields said she believed at least some of Barton’s issues stemmed from an early life full of abuse from his living situation with his real mother. She said as he grew up she found he had a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality.

“He could be the nicest, most charming boy,” Shields said. “I saw the dark side of him because I lived with him.”

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rossmannreport. You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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