Before the gunfire in Virginia, a volatile home life in Illinois

Signs of a deeply disturbed family life kept surfacing from the well-kept house with the pale sun awning and the pretty flowerpots off a gravel road here.

One of James T. Hodgkinson’s foster daughters killed herself in a gruesome fashion: by dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself on fire. Another described herself as “more of a hindrance than a daughter.” And when Mr. Hodgkinson dragged his grandniece by her hair and tried to choke her, the police were called in, and he was charged with battery. In previously sealed court papers obtained by the local newspaper, she described him as an abusive alcoholic who hit her repeatedly…

“Is it shocking?” asked Doug Knepper, whose son is married to one of Mr. Hodgkinson’s foster daughters. “No, because the man did not seem 100 percent stable to me.”