An Ursa Illinois native is being charged with a double murder. 29 year old Brent Burke is accused of killing his estranged wife Tracy Burke and her former mother-in-law Karen Comer. The women were found shot to death at their home in Rineyville, Kentucky last month.
Burke entered a not guilty plea this morning from prison, where he's being held on a two million dollar bond.
Brent Burke was serving in the military at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. And police say he was going through a bitter divorce with his wife Tracy, which was set to be finalized the week of the deadly shooting. In the divorce papers, Tracy Burke described her husband as "emotionally unstable and verbally abusive." She also stated that he was a changed man since serving in the war on terror in Afghanistan.
Tracy Burke's three children were at the house when the shooting happened. The oldest child called 9-1-1 the next morning. In addition to being charged with both murders, Burke is also charged with endangerment, burglary and cruelty to animals for allegedly shooting the family's dog.
But Burke was not initially named as a suspect.
"From the onset or shortly thereafter, they didn't want to list him as a suspect by all means. But they gathered evidence that kept going in that direction, until it's lead us to here," said Officer Steve Pavey with the Kentucky State Police.
Meanwhile, this news has sent shock waves through Ursa, where Burke grew up. We talked with a few people in the community who are having a hard time believing that one of their own could be involved in such a horrible crime.
We asked, "When you found out that an Ursa boy had been charged with murder, what did you think??"
"Well I just didn't think it could be possible for him to do something like that. He's been known as a real nice boy with a nice family," said Gerald Balsar, a friend of the Burke family.
And those thoughts about Brent Burke are commonplace in Ursa. Burke was known as a good student at Mendon Unity High school. He was involved with FFA and helped with other school projects like homecoming. And after graduating in 1996, he joined the military. He was also a third generation member of the Ursa Christian Church. Its pastor was devastated to learn of the charges against Burke.
"Brent has always been just a wonderful young man. I've gotten to know him since I've been pastor and I actually knew him when I was a camp counselor just up the road at our summer camp. And Brent has always been someone who would go out of his way to help you out." said Rev. Linda Hunsaker.
Reverend Hunsaker also said Burke's caring ways were seen during his time in the military. He was involved with an outreach program where he collected stuffed animals for sick children in the hospital. For all these reasons, she believes Burke is innocent.. And hopes the community will continue to rally around the Burke family with love and support.
Reverend Hunsaker has been in close contact with Burke's parents. She told us that Burke's mother flew to Kentucky last night to be there for his arraignment this morning. Burke's step-children are currently staying with relatives in Pennsylvania.