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Pastor of family killed with baseball bat speaks out about attack

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TAVARES, Fla. - The man who investigators said possibly killed himself after beating his girlfriend and her family with a metal baseball bat, killing her and her mother, had mental health issues, according to his family.

Investigators have identified the victims and suspect in an apparent murder-suicide that left two people beaten to death with a baseball bat at a Tavares home early Monday evening.

According to investigators, a man attacked three people at a home on Hibiscus Court around 5:30 p.m.

Reports said when a police officer arrived at the scene in response to a call about a fight, James Earl Jones, was standing in front of the home holding a metal baseball bat.

They said he had blood on his shirt and as soon as he saw officers, he ran away.

Investigators said Mavis Ratliff was found dead outside the home, while Shannon Ratliff and Eddie Ratliff were found beaten inside the house.

Eddie Ratliff was the only survivor, but his condition is unknown.

Police believe Jones attacked Shannon Ratliff, his girlfriend, with the bat and then attacked her brother and mother.

“It’s hard thinking about poor Mavis going through what she had to go through yesterday. She’s the type of person who would do anything for her family,” said the family’s pastor, John Swiney.

Jones’ body was found floating in Lake Dora and police believe he committed suicide.

"One body was found in a location where the incident occurred. The second body was found in a lake nearby," said Joyce Ross, with the Tavares Police Department.

Officials said it's unclear what sparked the attack, but the suspect knew the victims.

According to the 911 calls, Eddie Ratliff and Mavis Ratliff rushed to the home after Jones apparently snapped on his girlfriend of more than a decade.

“He’s got mental illness. He jumped on her, he’s for my mom and my brother out there, he’s fighting all of them. They’re old,” the caller said.

Swiney said he’s been the family’s pastor for years.

He said Shannon Ratliff called her mother for help Monday because Jones’ wouldn’t let her out of the house.

When Mavis Ratliff and Eddie Ratliff f got to the house, they were attacked too, he said.

Jones’ father told police his son was a schizophrenic, who has been in and out of treatment, and was off his medication during the attack.

He said Jones had recently spent some time in a mental health facility, but was released.

Shannon Ratliff and Eddit Ratliff have a younger sister who will now have to bury at least two of her loved ones.

“This is a blow. Not just for the family and the church, but the whole community,” Swiney said.

Virginia Hall, who identified herself as one of the victim's cousins, said she was devastated to learn of the deadly attack.

"Everyone is torn up about it," Hall said.

Eddie Ratliff, a long-time employee with the city of Tavares, remains in critical condition.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating the case.