Christopher Whitmore, Georgia Man, Guns Down Family Before Killing Self: Police

04/24/2015 05:04 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2015

A Georgia community is reeling from a tragic shooting that claimed the life of a young boy and both his parents. Cops say the boy's father pulled the trigger, then turned the gun on himself.

It happened at a rest stop in Varnell, Georgia, just before 7 p.m. Thursday. Police said Christopher Whitmore, 36, followed his estranged wife, Melissa Ball, 27, to the service station and parked directly behind her.

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said the couple's son, 8-year-old Grayden Lee Whitmore, was sitting in the back seat of his mother's parked car when his father pulled a handgun and shot him at close range, the Dalton Daily Citizen reports.

The service station is a combination gas station and McDonald's. Cops said people who witnessed the shooting told them Whitmore immediately shot Ball, then himself. All three family members died. Chitwood said the shooting is being investigated as a murder-suicide.

"Please pray for our family. My beautiful neice Melissa Ball and her son Grayden were taken from us tonight in Varnell Georgia. We are in total shock," a Tennessee man named Jeff Holmes, who said Ball was his niece, wrote on Facebook Thursday night.

Although it's not yet clear what transpired prior to the shooting, police said the couple had a history of domestic issues and were separated.

"She was a very good person, a good mother," Mandi Ball, Melissa's sister, told WRCB-TV. "She took care of her son and that's all she worried about. They would do anything to help anybody. Even him at 8 years old would stress out and have anxiety attacks from worrying about other people."

Grayden was a second-grader at Beaverdale Elementary School.

“We care deeply about every child and we lost a member of our family,” principal Cheri Mahan said in a statement. “Our counselors at the school are committed to helping our students and staff work through this tragedy.”

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