Friday was supposed to be a daddy-daughter bonding day for Katlin and John Patrick Violette.
Violette had quit his job at Lowe's Home Improvement the day before and had the whole day to spend with 4-year-old Katlin. Amber Violette, Katlin's mom, dropped by the house to have lunch with the two Friday, then left them to play while she went back to work, Clayton police said.
Less than five hours later, Amber Violette came home to find her only child splayed in the hallway, her head severed from her body. Panicked, she dialed 911.
"Her head's off. I can't do anything," Amber Violette screamed at a Johnston County emergency dispatcher between yelps. "She's dead, don't you get it?"
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There was no trace of John Violette at the house, Amber Violette told the dispatcher, according to a 911 tape released Saturday.
By midnight, police had officially blamed Katlin's father for her death. They tracked him to a hotel in Washington, D.C., where he was arrested early Saturday and charged with first-degree murder.
Investigators say they don't know what drove Violette to such a point. Aside from his quitting his job, police haven't found anything out of the ordinary in the family's life, police said.
"Things just aren't making sense," said Tex Lindsey, commander of the U.S. Marshal task force that helped hunt for Violette. "Why would a father do this?"
Credit card records led U.S. Marshals to the hotel in Washington, said Clayton Police Chief Glen Allen. Lindsey said Violette, 37, was at a Holiday Inn within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol. U.S. Marshals heard him moving inside his room, but Violette didn't answer when they beat on the door, Lindsey said. They knocked it in and arrested Violette. He didn't resist but later tried to escape twice as Marshals took him to jail, Lindsey said.
Violette is still there, awaiting extradition to Johnston County. Police hope to return Violette to the county early this week.
Investigators got on Violette's track about 1 a.m., when officers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport spotted his station wagon in a parking deck, Allen said. By then, though, Violette was long gone.
Investigators think Violette bought a U.S. Airways ticket to Washington. Allen said they think he boarded about 7:30 p.m.
Authorities don't know why Violette picked Washington. He has no obvious connection to the area, said Clayton police Lt. Jon Gerrell.
Police found no weapon with Violette or left behind in North Carolina. They are looking for some sort of "edged weapon," Gerrell said.
A pathologist at the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill worked Saturday to determine how Katlin died; police didn't expect results until this week. Allen said there were other "obvious signs of trauma" but declined to describe them.
Amber Violette told the dispatcher, "It looks like someone attacked her. ... I'm going to be sick."
By all appearances, the Violettes seemed an unlikely family for such a tragedy. Neither John nor Amber had any brushes with the law. Clayton police don't recall ever going to 2020 McKinnon Drive in the seven years the Violettes lived there.
John and Amber met at a church in Cary, Gerrell said. They married and later settled into an idyllic white-sided house in Clayton's Grovewood subdivision. They were among the first to move in when the subdivision opened in 1999, property records show.
Katlin made the family a threesome in 2002. Neighbors said her parents doted on her; John often pulled her in a wagon as the family strolled through the subdivision. On Friday night, neighbors tried to figure out how something like that could happen to such a quiet young family.
On Saturday, calm seemed to return to McKinnon Drive. A gaggle of children shot hoops. A woman helped balance her granddaughter, who rolled down the sidewalk on a scooter.
Katlin's pink bicycle with training wheels leaned against a rail on the Violettes' porch. A memorial of stuffed animals and flowers was piled high around the family's mailbox as yellow police tape wrapped around its post flapped in the breeze.