UPDATE POSTED 4 p.m. THURSDAY, SEPT. 9, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – A 52-year-old Richmond man has been indicted on capital murder and other charges in connection with the Aug. 3 shooting deaths of two well-known Richmond residents.
According to the Fayette County Circuit Court, the Fayette County Grand Jury indicted Thomas Birl on two counts of capital murder, first-degree arson, receiving a stolen firearm, evidence tampering and first-degree criminal mischief.
The charges stem from the shooting deaths of Chris and Gracie Hager at a duplex the couple owned on Keystone Drive. He got into a stand off with police and other law enforcement and before finally surrendering, set fire to the unit where he lived with his girlfriend.
During a previous hearing, investigators said the shooting began when the Hagers came to the unit and told Birl’s girlfriend they might sell the property.
The remains in the Madison County Detention Center on a $5 million bond pending arraignment, which likely will be in October.
UPDATE POSTED 6:00 p.m. THURSDAY, AUG. 19, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – New details in the case of a man accused of killing a Richmond couple were revealed in court Thursday.
Detective Jason Friend, with the Richmond police department, testified that Thomas Birl shot and killed 54-year-old Chris Hager and his 52-year-old wife, Gracie, after Birl talked to his girlfriend, who was upset because of a possible rent increase.
51-year-old Birl was in court Thursday for his preliminary hearing.
Friend also said investigators found surveillance cameras outside of the apartment. Inside, he said there were more than 1,500 rounds of ammunition, another gun, in addition to the stolen one used for the murders, a bullet proof helmet and vest and a DVR for the surveillance cameras.
“Some of these items were destroyed by the fire,” Friend said, as grounds for one of Birl’s several charges – tampering with physical evidence.
Birl’s lawyer, Daniel Whitley, argues Birl might not have known the gun was stolen when he got it in 2017.
“Do you have any information, as part of your investigation, that Birl had any knowledge this item was stolen,” Whitley asked Friend. “I do not know if he had known it was stolen,” Friend replied.
Madison County District Court Judge Earl-Ray Neal declined to dismiss the stolen weapon charged against Birl. Neal said that could be an issue for a grand jury or even a criminal court jury to decide later.
Whitley said it’s important for Birl to have his day in court, and for all the evidence to be presented fairly.
“Anytime people in the community are hurt or harmed, everyone’s gonna wanna condemn and put the person to Hell,” Whitley said. “That’s just our natural reaction. The only thing we’re asking for is to have the ability to present whatever evidence it is in the courtroom, resolve in the courtroom, and that’s where justice will prevail.”
The judge Thursday declined to change Birl’s $5 million bond, deciding there was enough evidence for now to keep it high to protect the suspect’s safety and the community’s.
Whitley argued the amount doesn’t match Birl’s financial status.
UPDATE POSTED 10:58 A.M. WEDNESDAY, AUG. 18, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – The alleged killer of Chris and Gracie Hager appeared in court this morning for a preliminary hearing.
Birl entered the courtroom using a walker and wearing a bulletproof vest.
The courts agreed to move Thomas Birl’s preliminary hearing by a day to Thursday, Aug. 19 at 11 a.m.
As of now, the reason for the delay is unknown.
UPDATE POSTED 5 P.M. MONDAY, AUG. 9, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – The man accused of killing a Richmond couple made his first court appearance Monday.
Thomas Birl, 51, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment.
He’s being held on a $5 million bond.
Birl is considered a danger to himself or others and a flight risk, according to arraignment documents from Madison County District Court.
During the arraignment, Birl requested a public defender and said he’s a musician.
Richmond Police say he’s accused of shooting and killing 54-year-old Chris Hager and his 52-year-old wife, Gracie, last Tuesday at a duplex the Hagers owned, and where Birl lived with his girlfriend.
After the shootings, police say Birl barricaded himself inside his apartment, which led to a four-hour standoff until police forced Birl out with powdered gas.
Officers say before leaving, Birl set the duplex on fire.
Investigators say Birl used a stolen gun to kill the Hagers.
Officers are still looking for a motive.
Birl is in the Madison County Detention Center and is charged with murder, arson, tampering with physical evidence, criminal mischief and receiving stolen property.
UPDATE 11:45 P.M. SUNDAY, AUG. 8, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – Hundreds of friends, family and community members of Chris and Gracie Hager who were shot and killed Tuesday in Richmond gathered Sunday night for a celebration of life. It was clear to see how loved Chris and Gracie were. Friends say the couple was legendary with a legacy that continues to inspire.
“This is not something that’s a just tragedy or a travesty for us, this is a tragedy and travesty for the world because we desperately need good people with good hearts,” says Reverend Bill Fort.
Friends say Chris and Gracie had an exemplary marriage and often served as marriage mentors. They say the couple was a living example of John 13:35 from the Bible, which says “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“I would start by saying this about Chris; Chris is a 3 a.m. friend,” says a family friend. “You could call him at any time for any reason and he would’ve been there.”
“We had so many adventures together from our first trip to Guatemala to our trip to Cancun during the middle of the swine flu,” says another family friend about her relationship with Gracie.
They were well-known for their multiple businesses but Reverend Fort said if all you knew them for was their work, then you missed out. Hospitable, generous, honest, loving and Christ-centered are just a few of the many words friends use to describe Chris and Gracie.
“It’s so important that we feel the things we walk through and when you have loss, the reason that it hurts is because there was something good that is now missing,” says family friend, Daniel McKee. “And there was so much good that they brought to every life that so many people will be here to celebrate them because they felt something when they spent time with Chris and Gracie.”
Visitation for Chris and Gracie Hager is Monday from 6 to 9 P.M. at the Hafield Funeral Chapel with funeral services Tuesday at 1 P.M. in Ransom.
UPDATE 12:54 P.M. FRIDAY, AUG. 6, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – A man accused of gunning down a couple in Richmond has been released from the hospital and taken to the Madison County Detention Center, where he faces a new charge.
According to an updated arrest citation, Thomas Birl has also been charged with receiving stolen property (firearm). The citation said the gun Birl used in the double homicide was confirmed to have been stolen from West Virginia.
UPDATE 9 A.M. FRIDAY, AUG. 6, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – The visitation and funeral have been set for a Richmond couple killed this week in an apparent dispute with a tenant.
According to an obituary posted by Davis and Powell Funeral Home in Richmond, a celebration of life for 54-year-old Chris Hager and 52-year-old Gracie Hager is 6 to 9 p.m. Monday will be 7:30 p.m. Sunday, August 8, 2021, at the Ravine on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus located on University Drive with Rev. Bill Fort officiating.
The service will be live streamed at www.davisandpowellfuneralhome.
Visitation for 54-year-old Chris Hager and 52-year-old Gracie Hager is 6 to 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9, at Hatfield Funeral Chapel at 144 Toler Road in Belfry, Ky., in Pike County.
The funeral is 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10 at Hatfield Funeral Chapel with Rev. Bill Fort officiating. Burial will follow in the Ransom Hager Family Cemetery in Ransom, Ky.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to a favorite charity.
According to their obituary, the two met at Belfry High School at the ages of 16, and 14 and married on June 13, 1987.
They moved to Richmond and graduated from Eastern Kentucky University, and Richmond became their home.
Chris and Gracie were devout followers of Christ and had been very active and served in many different capacities with several congregations in Richmond, and the Prince of Peace Home for Girls in Guatemala. Chris and Gracie were active entrepreneurs in the community and touched many lives through their work, according to their obituary.
Chris was preceded in death by his parents, Ransom and Grace McCoy Hager and two brothers, Bobby, and Paul Irvine Hager. Gracie was preceded in death by one brother, Greg Thacker.
Chris and Gracie are survived by their daughter, Carlie Marie Hager of Lexington, KY. Gracie’s parents, Dennis Talley of San Bernadino, CA, and Bonnie Donley of Richmond, KY. Chris’ siblings, Marie (Bruce) Justice of Belfry, KY, James (Vickie) Hager of McCarr, KY, Brenda (Lee) Dotson of Belfry, KY, Raymond (Pricella) Hager of Ransom, KY, Dolly Gail (Steve) Funsten of Mt. Vernon, OH, Acie (Pam) Hager of Waco, KY, Randy (Darlene) Hager of Belfry, KY, Terry (Phyllis) Hager of Richmond, KY, Gary (Pennie) Hager of Ulysses, KY, Michael (Carolyn) Hager of Pikeville, KY, and David Hager of Berea, KY. Gracie’s Siblings, Darlene (Mark) Doran, and Marsha Taylor both of Aurora, CO, Linda (Frank) Thacker of Richmond, KY, and Kevin (Tracey) Talley of Byhalia, MS.
UPDATE POSTED 11 P.M. WEDNESDAY, AUG. 4, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – There is still shock, disbelief and sadness for many in Richmond after a beloved couple was gunned down Tuesday, allegedly by a man who lived in their duplex. Wednesday night, a prayer vigil for Chris and Gracie Hager was held at Eastside Community Church in Richmond.
“We’re praying for Chris and Gracie’s family tonight, God, giving them peace and understanding that we can’t even grasp,” a church member prayed.
“Chris and Gracie, they were always fun, they had a lot of energy,” says Virgil Grant, Eastside Community Church pastor. “As Jerry and Mendi Goble mentioned tonight in the service, they were always all in in everything that they did and that was their lifestyle. And you couldn’t really mention Chris without mentioning the name Gracie, they did life together.”
People who knew the couple say they went on countless mission trips to Guatemala with their church, owned a business, and were always ready to open their arms to anyone in need.
“We talked the other day, Gracie and I, just literally last week after we had the passing of Clay and she said ‘this is where the rubber meets the road, we either believe it or we don’t.’ and I’m like ‘you’re so right’,” says Mendi Goble, Hager family friend. “I believe it with all of my heart that God’s gonna get us through this.”
“His life was not shortened,” says Jerry Goble about his friend Chris. “He had to go home.”
Grant says while many are feeling angry and saddened by the sudden and heavy loss, he feels peace knowing they’re with God in Heaven.
“Chris and Gracie and the people that we mentioned tonight touched so many people’s lives that they just needed a central place to come together to mourn, to grieve, and to find healing,” says Grant.
It was a night full of love for a couple who will be dearly missed.
UPDATE 6 P.M. – RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – People in Richmond are mourning the loss of a couple they say were instrumental in the community.
Richmond Police say 51-year-old Thomas Birl shot and killed 54-year old Chris Hager and his 52-year-old wife, Gracie, Tuesday afternoon outside a duplex the Hager’s owned and Birl lived.
Everyone ABC 36 News talked to Wednesday at the Richmond Shell gas station the Hagers owned and operated said the same thing – the couple were the best people you could ever meet.
David Williams said he’d known the Hager for years, and he can’t believe they’re gone.
“It’s like losing a family member,” Williams said.
Chris was a well-known realtor, and Williams said Hager was in the process of building a home right across the street from him.
“I was, of course, in doubt, that it was true,” Williams said. “I was hoping, wishful thinking, that it wasn’t. When I came to the service station and found out that it was true, it was, of course, very hurtful for me.”
Williams said the Hagers treated everyone like family, and that’s what kept them coming to the station. That – and Gracie’s delicious baked treats.
In fact, that’s how Sarah Griffin first met the Hagers. She and her daughter come to the station every morning to indulge their sweet tooth.
She left flowers at the station Wednesday.
“We just spoke to her about 10 o’clock yesterday morning,” Griffin said. “We come in here to get something, and it just kinda hurt my heart that four hours later, roughly, her life was took.”
Investigators say after the shootings, Birl barricaded himself inside his apartment and was eventually forced out after a four-hour standoff when police used powdered gas and they said Birl set his place on fire.
Investigators were back at the crime scene Wednesday.
Griffin said she knows it’s hard, but she hopes those who loved the Hagers keep their spirits lifted.
“Anybody that’s lost anybody, I just tell them to remember the good times,” Griffin said. “Remember the positive moments.”
UPDATE 1:12 P.M. – A community prayer service has been announced for the Richmond couple who was killed Tuesday evening.
Eastside Community Church posted on its Facebook page about the vigil that will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at 2010 Catalpa Loop in Richmond. Everyone is invited.
The post said, “Our hearts are heavy tonight over the tragic loss of Chris and Gracie Hager, dear friends of so many. As a community, we have all experienced loss not only today, but in these recent days and months.”
UPDATE 10:52 A.M. – The charges given to a shooter in a double homicide in Richmond Tuesday evening are now available.
According to Thomas Birl’s arrest citation, he has been charged with murder, arson (1st degree), tampering with physical evidence and criminal mischief (1st degree).
UPDATE 8:50 P.M. – A husband and wife were gunned down outside a duplex on Keystone Drive in Richmond on Tuesday afternoon that led to a four-hour standoff with the accused killer, according to authorities.
The victims were identified by investigators as 54-year old Christopher and 52-year old Gracie Hager. Investigators say shortly before 2:30 p.m., the accused shooter, 51-year old Thomas Birl, of Cadiz, shot the couple and then went back into his duplex where he refused to come out while police surrounded the duplex and told neighbors to stay in their homes as a precaution. Area roads were blocked off, no one was allowed in or out of the neighborhood.
Investigators say when they couldn’t make contact with Birl, they got a search warrant. They say around 6:30 p.m., they shot powdered gas into Birl’s unit. They say he came out, but not before setting his apartment on fire. The fire department came in to fight the fire. Police say when Birl came out, he was arrested and taken to the hospital to be checked-out.
Investigators say early-on in the investigation, they don’t know Birl’s connection to the Hager’s or a motive for the double shooting. The Richmond Register reports Christopher Hager owned the duplex Birl lived-in.
UPDATE 6:30 P.M.– According to a WTVQ ABC 36 reporter on the scene, it appears teams used flash bombs or tear gas on the apartment because smoke could be seen coming from the building and firefighters were spraying water on the units as if they had caught fire. An ambulance also was sent to the unit.
ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 4:30 P.M. AUG. 3, 2021
RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ/Richmond Register) – A shooting on North Keeneland Drive has left two people dead and brought a heavy police presence to the area.
According to a report from the Richmond Register, Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison is currently at the scene of the crime.
Law enforcement have closed down the area of Keystone and Keeneland Drive starting just before Keystone Drive at ServePro
Richmond Police have found the alleged shooter who is barricaded in a nearby apartment. Authorities have surrounded the apartment and are demanding the subject come outside.
Residents are advised to stay indoors.
The identities of the victims and the alleged shooter are currently unknown.