The autopsy of a woman murdered Monday in Ellwood City revealed she was shot five times.

Lawrence County Coroner Richard “R.J.” Johnson said Thursday that Krista Knechtel, 42, suffered three gunshot wounds to the head and one each to the neck and shoulder.

Johnson said the official cause of Knechtel’s death was listed as multiple gunshot wounds to head and neck, and blunt force trauma to the head. Her death has been ruled a homicide. The autopsy was conducted at Heritage Valley Health System hospital in Beaver County.

It was the first homicide this year in Lawrence County.

Knechtel’s daughter, Cassidy Smith, 24, also was shot in the head and is in serious condition in the trauma unit of St. Elizabeth’s Youngstown Hospital.

Keegan Tyler Willis-King, 23, formerly of New Mexico, is in the Lawrence County jail, accused of shooting Knechtel, then turning the gun on Smith, who reportedly was his girlfriend. He is charged with homicide and attempted criminal homicide in the incident that reportedly occurred around 5:20 p.m.

According to police reports, Knechtel and her daughters, Smith, and Marilyn D. Knechtel, 22, lived together in a third-floor apartment of the building at 216 First St., where the shooting occurred. Willis-King had moved in with them several months ago.

Ellwood City police officer in charge Sgt. Michael McBride and Johnson both reported several bullet slugs were obtained from Knechtel’s head and clothing during the autopsy.

McBride had said Tuesday they believed Willis-King pistol-whipped Knechtel and her daughter, in addition to shooting them. The gun was covered with blood when the police confiscated it from inside the building, he said.

McBride said he he does not know yet how many times Smith had been shot, the extent of her injuries or whether doctors had recovered any bullets. That information is pending the police securing of her hospital records, he said.

Trouble started in the family’s apartment when Willis-King, for an unknown reason, reportedly took out a gun and shot Knechtel multiple times in the face at close range, according to McBride. Knechtel was found dead on a couch when police arrived.

As Smith tried to call 911, Willis-King, standing nearby, fired the gun at her, also and shot her in the head, leaving a bullet hole in the phone she was using, McBride said. She was unconscious when police arrived.

Police reported in a criminal complaint her younger sister hid in a bedroom and called the police, and responding officers surrounded the building and eventually arrested Willis-King.

McBride called the shooting “a senseless act of violence.” He said the only calls the police had at that residence in previous months were for medical reasons.

According to a criminal complaint, the police spoke with the second-floor residents, who said they were playing video games when they heard multiple loud gunshots. The police found bullet holes in the ceiling of the second-floor apartment, from the upstairs apartment, and they recovered slugs from the downstairs unit, according to McBride.

Once in custody, Willis-King reportedly told the police, “I’m sorry I shot Krista,” the complaint states. He also admitted in a taped interview that he had shot Knechtel and Smith. Then he ripped up his Miranda rights paper and said he did not want to make a statement. He threw the papers at an officer, then grabbed a chair, lifted it above his head and tried to swing it at the officers, the report said.

The police struggled with him, and a Shenango Township officer shot a Taser at him to subdue him, the complaint states.

Willis-King is in the Lawrence County jail without bond. His preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday in Central Court.

He is considered innocent until proven guilty or adjudicated in court.

Trending Video


Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.