They had been married for 14 years. They lived in a two-story, $300,000 home in a Virginia suburb. They were the parents of a little girl, not quite grade-school age.

And Leonard and Carrie Egland were part of a culture - the Army - where research shows a relatively low rate of reported domestic violence. Particularly among officers, which Capt. Leonard Egland was.

But that idyll disintegrated as the couple separated and neared a final divorce decree.

They bickered over custody of their daughter, police said, and Carrie Egland confided to friends that she had grown fearful of her estranged husband.

"It clearly was not a happy, friendly separation," Lt. Randy Horowitz of the Chesterfield County (Va.) Police said Monday.

Last weekend, authorities say, their breakup exploded into a level of rage that no one could have predicted.

Late Friday or early Saturday, police say, an armed Leonard Egland, 37, went to the house he owned but no longer occupied.

In an upstairs bedroom, he fatally shot 40-year-old Scott Allred, his estranged wife's boyfriend. In the nearby master bathroom, he shot Doylestown native Carrie Egland, 36, multiple times, killing her.

And with a single shot, police say, Leonard Egland also killed Allred's 7-year-old son, Morgan. Police found no sign of a break-in or struggle before the gunfire.

Then, as Hurricane Irene swept northward up the East Coast, so did Leonard Egland and his wave of violence.

About 9 p.m. Saturday, police say, he pulled his black pickup truck into a long, wooded driveway off Church School Road in Buckingham Township, Bucks County.

As winds whipped and rain from the hurricane poured, he broke a glass door pane, reached inside, and unlatched the dead bolt of the house where his widowed mother-in-law lived alone.

Barbara Ruehl, 66, who reportedly suffered from medical problems, never got up from her easy chair, District Attorney David Heckler said. Police would find her there hours later, shot once in the head.

Leaving the house alongside Egland was his small daughter, Lauryn, who, according to published reports, is 5 or 6. Police in both states theorize that he had brought her from Virginia, but have not ruled out that she had been visiting Ruehl.

In the increasingly bizarre hours that followed, Egland would deposit his daughter safely before midnight at St. Luke's Hospital in Quakertown, where the girl announced, "Grandmom went to heaven."

There he left a note whose exact contents have not been disclosed, but which hinted at suicide and led police, within hours, to discover the slaying victims in both states.

It also suggested a possible motive. "There is something in the letter [saying] that he had some concern over who would be in charge of his daughter," Heckler said.

After drawing a gun on a St. Luke's worker who tried to keep him from leaving around 11 p.m., Egland drove back toward Doylestown. Around midnight, and again shortly before dawn, he fired on police, wounding one officer with a bullet to the hand and another with glass from a shattered window.

Egland then retreated to a patch of woods in Warwick Township and fatally shot himself in the head - though his body was not found until after a daylong manhunt that left many nearby residents panicked.

"This man was clearly on a mission," said Bucks County Coroner Joseph Campbell, who made the suicide ruling Monday. "It's too bad he came all the way to Bucks County to complete it."

Relatives of Carrie Egland and Barbara Ruehl did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.

A closed custody hearing for Lauryn Egland is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Bucks County Court.

And authorities continue to ponder what led a decorated, 18-year Army veteran - who served tours in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq - to such violent extremes. Egland was a quartermaster training developer at Fort Lee, not far from the Richmond suburb where he lived.

His divorce "was close to final," Horowitz said, perhaps a month away. Lauryn spent times at both parents' houses, he said, and "it would be fair to say that they they were in competition for their daughter."

Contrary to earlier reports, Egland had not just returned from overseas duty. Military officials said his last deployment, to Iraq, ended in September 2009.

Horowitz said friends of Carrie Egland's who were interviewed by police "all indicate that she was worried about him, in fear of him, but that was not something that was addressed" with authorities, Horowitz said. "We don't have any reports of domestic violence."

Research shows Army families have lower rates of domestic violence reports than the general public, said Richard J. Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice.

"This case probably has very little to do with deployment and service overseas, and everything to do with the husband's falling into the 'If I can't have you, nobody can' category," said Gelles, a longtime Department of Defense consultant on domestic violence research and prevention. "If he was clinically depressed over his situation, he would most likely have killed not only his wife, but his child as well."

The Army has severe penalties for domestic violence, along with aggressive treatment measures, Gelles said.

"But with a particular type of offender who feels he has nothing to lose," he added, "that policy doesn't help."

Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446, lking@phillynews.com or @KingInq on Twitter.