Woman, 79, dies in home invasion

David Hains spent Sunday night writing the eulogy for his 79-year-old mother-in-law, who died from a heart attack when a man invaded her Gaston County home, police said.

“It's bad enough to lose someone,” he told the Observer Sunday. “But to lose someone in an unjust way like this – it's a very difficult thing to deal with.”

Mary Parnell was reading a novel in her home office Friday afternoon when police say a man burst into her home while police were hunting for two credit union robbery suspects.

Larry Whitfield, 20, and Quanterrious McCoy, 20, both of Charlotte, were being pursued by officers after the two men attempted to rob the Fort Financial Credit Union on New Hope Road in Gastonia, police told NewsChannel 36, the Observer's news partner.

Whitfield and McCoy wrecked their car on Interstate 85 at the Belmont/Mount Holly exit, and ran into the woods, police said.

Gastonia police, working with sheriff's deputies, state troopers and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, found McCoy hiding under a car. Witnesses told police that a identified as Whitfield first broke into one house and confronted the owner with a knife before running to Parnell's house.

An autopsy showed she died of a heart attack. Witnesses told police they saw Whitfield running away. A sheriff's deputy found him a short time later under a briar bush nearby, NewsChannel 36 reported.

Whitfield was charged with first-degree murder under the state's felony murder rule, which applies when someone dies in the commission of a felony, said Gastonia Police Capt. C.L. Shaw.

Whitfield also faces kidnapping charges, stemming from circumstances that occurred inside at least one of the homes he entered, Shaw said, declining to elaborate. In addition, Whitfield was charged with attempted robbery and felony breaking and entering, Shaw said. Whitfield was being held in the Gaston County Jail without bond Sunday night.

McCoy was charged with attempted armed robbery and was also being held in jail. His bond amount was not available.

Both men are expected in court today.

Parnell's family said she was in good health and didn't suffer any other injuries besides the heart attack.

Relatives remembered her Sunday as a “sparkling” woman who was devoted to her five grandchildren and her husband of nearly 50 years, Herman. He was attending a funeral Friday when the death occurred, said Hains, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

Parnell grew up in the New Hope area of Gaston County and married her high school sweetheart. She worked at a bank while raising her four children and spent her retired years reading novels and mysteries and playing solitaire on her computer.

“When you spoke with her on the telephone or in person she literally was smiling all the time,” Hains said. “She seemed to always be delighted in your presence.”