Raleigh homicide, suicide end couple's troubled relationship

ajames@newsobserver.comSeptember 12, 2012 

— Kathleen Ann Bertrand and Christopher John Bertrand were divorced and living in separate states, but their lives ended violently within hours of each other Monday in two Raleigh parking lots.

Police say Christopher Bertrand, 42, of Hoover, Ala., shot his ex-wife shortly after she arrived for work Monday morning at Pier 1 Imports in Cameron Village, then fled on foot. More than four hours later, he shot himself in the head behind a business on Wade Avenue, less than a mile away.

The couple had three children – a 13-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. The children are being cared for by Kathleen Bertrand’s mother and will go to live with her in Florida, according to friend Samantha Hart.

The threat of violence was a subtext to the couple’s marital problems, according to court documents. Hart said that since her divorce in December 2011, Kathleen Bertrand, 41, seemed to be on the upswing. She said that when she last saw Bertrand last month, she did not express any concerns about her ex-husband.

“She had moved on with her life,” said Hart, founder of Loxley Abbey, a spiritual center in Knightdale that Kathleen Bertrand had attended with her children since May 2010. Not tied to a particular religion, Loxley Abbey emphasizes having a strong moral code, a support network, and ceremonies centered around events in nature, including the changing of the seasons. Hart said Bertrand was involved in healing rituals, such as fire spinning and trance dancing, at the center to help her overcome her divorce and the tumultuous home life that led to it.

“She loved to hoop dance,” said Hart.

Hart came to Pier 1 Imports on Tuesday afternoon to lay flowers outside of the store, where workers from several other businesses had placed bouquets. The store was closed Tuesday.

The Bertrands both attended Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and were married in Florida in 1992. That same year, she joined a law firm in Hollywood, Fla., where she represented employers and employees in “highly sensitive workmen’s compensation matters,” said the firm’s founder William Heller. He said she left the firm when she became pregnant with her first child.

“She wanted to raise a family,” Heller said. “She was so reliable. I was really sad to see her leave, but understood why she wanted to do it. She wanted to be a mom.”

The couple moved to North Carolina, eventually settling in Knightdale in 2005, where they bought a house in the Planters Walk subdivision. Next door neighbor Chris Hearn described the family as “reclusive.”

“We’ve lived here since 2004, … and I can say I rarely saw her or him out interacting or socializing with anyone,” Hearn said. “They were different. Still, I never suspected what I saw on the news yesterday.”

Christopher Bertrand worked as a warehouse manager at B.W. Wilson Paper in Smithfield from 2007 until 2009, and held the same position at U.S. Food Service in Raleigh. He worked as a warehouse manager with a produce company in Birmingham, Ala., from 2009 until the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

The Bertrands were legally separated in October 2011. In a court document at the time, Kathleen Bertrand wrote that she was living on Food Stamps and was not able to pay for a lawyer.

Under the terms of their separation, Christopher was allowed only supervised visits with the couple’s three children. The state Division of Child Protective Services recommended he take certified parenting classes, undergo a psychological evaluation, and participate in weekly counseling services for at least six months. If he followed through with those steps, the terms of custody could be re-evaluated, though there is no indication that he did.

Two months after their separation, Christopher Bertrand tried unsuccessfully to obtain custody of the children. Afterward, Kathleen Bertrand told the court that her husband had threatened suicide.

“He has said he has nothing to live for if he can’t be with his children,” she wrote. “He told my mom that she would never see him again.”

Court documents show that Kathleen felt threatened by her husband and tried to seek help. In November 2010, she requested a domestic violence protective order at the Wake County court house, saying she was so “shaken up” by her husband’s erratic behavior that she had left town for two weeks.

“I cut off my cellphone and was hiding until my return to North Carolina, where I have been staying in hiding,” she wrote. “I am scared to go home with my children.”

Court documents show that Christopher Bertrand had moved to Memphis, Tenn., prior to the domestic violence complaints, where he lived for two months before returning home “in the middle of the night” and harassing and threatening his wife, she wrote.

The court documents show that he had moved to Tennessee to accept a job and expected the family would come with him. When they did not follow, he moved back to North Carolina.

A judge granted the domestic violence protective order, giving Kathleen Bertrand possession of the home in Knightdale and ordering that Christopher Bertrand stay away from her workplace and her children’s daycare and schools. Christopher Bertrand also was ordered not to “assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass (by telephone, visiting the home or workplace or other means), or interfere” with her.

Kathleen Bertrand’s house in Knightdale was foreclosed upon in March of this year, and since then she had been living in an apartment in Cary.

Christopher Bertrand had made efforts to care for his family. In April 2011, he signed a voluntary support agreement to provide health insurance for his children once he found a job. And according to Samantha Hart, he would often pay for things he didn’t need to.

“He sent her money to buy the children sneakers,” said Hart. “And he paid for her to help her move from Knightdale to Cary.”

Staff writer Paul A. Specht contributed .

James: 919-829-4870

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service