Gus Deeds left college to help his father's 2009 campaign for governor, and the elder Deeds had made "herculean efforts" to help his son over the years, one of the senator's colleagues said. On Tuesday morning, though, the pair got into some sort of altercation at Deeds' home in rural western Virginia and the senator was stabbed multiple times in the head and chest, police said. Gus Deeds died at the home from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Authorities were still piecing together a motive and the circumstances that led up to the stabbing, but "we're leaning towards it being an attempted murder/suicide," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said at an afternoon news conference. Creigh (pronounced kree) Deeds, 55, and his 24-year-old son were the only ones home at the time.
Deeds, a Democrat who rose to be gubernatorial nominee in 2009 despite his reserved demeanor and humble farmland roots, was in fair condition at a hospital.
Police recovered a gun at the home, but Geller would not provide details about it. She also would not say what the senator was stabbed with.
She said police have been able to talk with the senator, but would not reveal what he has said.
Deeds made his first bid for statewide office in 2005 when he ran for attorney general and lost to Republican Bob McDonnell by less than 400 votes. Four years later, he defeated Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran in the Democratic primary, then squared off with McDonnell again in the general election. This time he lost badly.
During that race, Deeds' style was somewhat unorthodox. He would listen intently to people and their worries, but rarely did he engage in lengthy conversations on the campaign trail, seemingly almost reluctant to impose on people's time. He said then he didn't think Virginia voters could be won by style points, drawing a contrast to McDonnell.
Gus Deeds is one of the senator's four adult children. He studied music at the College of William and Mary, where he had been enrolled off and on since 2007, but withdrew last month, school spokesman Brian Whitson said. The college said he had a strong academic record. It did not say why he left.
During Deeds' bid for governor, his son took off a semester to join his dad on the campaign trail.
"He needs me and I need him," Deeds told a reporter in the fall of 2009, about campaigning with Gus.
"I've got to go through this campaign process but that doesn't mean I've got to be completely separated from my family the whole time," he said.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, whose district overlaps with Deeds', said in a statement: "Sen. Deeds was very close to his son, Gus, and has taken herculean efforts to help him over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Creigh and the family at this difficult time."
At the Millboro Mercantile and Grocery Store, several miles from the Deeds home in remote, mountainous Bath County, a neighbor said he had a high regard for father and son.
"A fine neighbor. You couldn't ask for a better neighbor," said Joe Wood, 64, who said he had known Creigh Deeds since the late 1970s. "If something happened, he was right there."
Wood mentioned Gus' campaigning with his father during his unsuccessful run for governor, and he said the younger Deeds and his sisters came to his house often through the years.
Wood said while he had heard Gus had struggled with mental health issues, he couldn't fathom what would have caused the violent encounter.
"They thought the world of each other," Wood said. "That's what's surprising about this whole deal."
Deeds and his ex-wife, Pam, divorced shortly after the 2009 campaign. Deeds remarried last year.
Deeds spent most of his childhood in Bath County, where his family settled in the 1740s. The rural county is known for the luxury Homestead resort, but Deeds grew up on the other side of the mountain.
"I didn't grow up on the end of the county where you learn to ski and play golf as a child," he said. Deeds lived on a farm after his parents divorced when he was about 7.
Deeds, a former Bath County prosecutor, was elected to the House of Delegates in 1991 and to the state Senate in 2001.
McDonnell said in a statement the news was "utterly heartbreaking."
"Creigh Deeds is an exceptional and committed public servant who has always done what he believes is best for Virginia and who gives his all to public service," McDonnell said.
McAuliffe, now governor-elect, called it a sad day for Virginia.
"We join people across the Commonwealth and country in wishing him a full recovery," he said.
Associated Press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report from McLean, Va., and Michael Felberbaum contributed from Richmond, Va.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap .
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AP Photo: In a Sept. 25, 2009 photo, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds spends time with his son Gus, left, on the road to Halifax, Va., between campaign events.