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Man suspected of fatally shooting his sister at Roanoke hotel

ROANOKE -- A weekend trip for a Sweetwater family turned deadly early Sunday when a shooting at a hotel pool left a woman fatally wounded and landed her little brother in jail.

Keli Atkins, 32, who was shot once in the chest, was taken by helicopter ambulance to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where she died. The Tarrant County medical examiner's office has listed her death as a homicide.

Her brother Aric McGowan, 24, and brother-in-law Chester Cunningham, 24, were detained. Cunningham, an off-duty Nolan County sheriff's deputy, was later released.

McGowan was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the shooting and taken to the Denton County Jail. He posted $25,000 bond and was released Sunday evening, records show. Police believe that McGowan used Cunningham's off-duty gun in the shooting.

Nolan County Sheriff Donnie Rannefeld said he had "never seen anything like this" in 41 years of law enforcement. Rannefeld said he spoke with Cunningham shortly after the shooting.

"He was in shock," Rannefeld said. "I told him to cooperate with the investigation."

Atkins was staying at the Best Western Inn and Suites in the 300 block of Dorman Road with Cunningham, McGowan and other relatives because her daughter was playing in a Southlake softball tournament, police said. Relatives were relaxing by the pool when Cunningham decided to get in, Rannefeld said.

Cunningham took off his pants, in which he had tucked his small, backup revolver, put them on a nearby chair and jumped in, Rannefeld said. Soon, he heard a loud bang and saw a commotion, Rannefeld said.

"He didn't even realize it was a gunshot," Rannefeld said. "We don't know exactly what happened."

Roanoke police responded to a 911 call about 1:25 a.m. reporting a possible shooting, Roanoke Sgt. Chris Almonrode said. Family members at the scene became witnesses, which created chaos as they struggled to communicate with police through their shock and grief, Almonrode said.

McGowan seemed distraught about the slaying and by late Sunday was still unable to give detectives a clear picture of what happened, Almonrode said.

Cunningham has been with the Nolan County Sheriff's Department for about two years and is "a good deputy," Rannefeld said. The Nolan County sheriff is waiting for Roanoke police to finish their investigation into the case before deciding whether his department will take any action.

"I am not in the punishing mood right now," Rannefeld said Sunday evening. "I am in the mood to help him and to figure out how we can keep anything like this from ever happening again."

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