Kevin Limbaugh never owned guns as a young man growing up in Michigan, never even talked about them.
He dressed well, and was a handsome but shy young man whose high school girlfriend still remembers him coming to her 16th birthday party with an oversized teddy bear to add to her collection.
As a young high school graduate, Limbaugh was accepted into Central Michigan University to study to be an orthodontist, but his college days ended after he got a job at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and began a lifelong career in the gaming industry.
That career brought him to a small rental house on E Street in Davis and a job working on slot machines at the Cache Creek Casino Resort in nearby Brooks.
Until Jan. 10, Limbaugh apparently led an unremarkable life, an only child who grew up with divorced parents, a 48-year-old bachelor who left virtually no trace of his life in online databases or local newspapers.
Then, for reasons even those who were once closest to him cannot fathom, Limbaugh went on a shooting spree in downtown Davis, ambushing rookie police Officer Natalie Corona and shooting up his neighborhood before killing himself inside his home.
“I don’t think you’re going to figure out how this ever came about to happen,” his father, Rodney Limbaugh, said in a brief telephone interview last week from his Michigan home. “It sounds like he just flipped.”
Sacramento County Sheriff’s detectives, who have taken over the investigation of the shooting, are still examining what little evidence Limbaugh left behind, including the two semiautomatic handguns he used in his rampage.
Police said Limbaugh used a .45-caliber and 9 mm, both weapons he was prohibited from possessing because of a September battery charge stemming from a late-night incident at Cache Creek during which he sucker punched a co-worker. As a result of that case, Limbaugh was ordered to surrender a black .22-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 rifle he owned.
Detectives still are researching how Limbaugh obtained the handguns. But the fact he owned any firearms – and used them to randomly gun down a 22-year-old police officer – stunned people who grew up with him.
“He wasn’t anything like that,” said Jennifer Wells, his high school sweetheart in Owosso, Mich., a town of about 15,000 residents 25 miles west of Flint. “He never talked about guns with me.
“I never pictured him to be the type to have guns.”
Wells, 48, remembers Limbaugh as “kind of quiet, laid back.”
“He didn’t get into trouble in school, he was well-dressed, very handsome,” she said. “He was a gentleman to me.”
Wells said Limbaugh’s parents divorced when he was a young boy, and that he split his time living with his mother in the summers in Florida and in Michigan with his father during the school year.
“He was smart, he was like an A student, maybe some Bs,” she said. “But he was very smart, and he got accepted into CMU and was going to be an orthodontist.”
The two dated for nearly two years, she said, starting when he was 16 and she was 15.
“We were young, but we were young and in love,” she said. “We’d go to the movies. He lived two blocks from me, so we would spend a lot of time together.
“We’d walk home from school, sometimes I’d go to his house or he’d go to mine.”
Wells recalls Limbaugh as bashful, and a photo taken during her 16th birthday party shows Limbaugh turning away from the camera and holding a hand over his face. On the table, partygoers are sitting around a bouquet of pink flowers and a balloon, one of the gifts Limbaugh brought for Wells.
“He came to my Sweet 16 birthday party,” Wells said. “I collected teddy bears, and he brought me a large one. I had it till about three years ago. A puppy thought it was a toy and got it and tore it up.”
Wells and another childhood friend recalled Limbaugh growing up in a strict household where his father, a salesman, traveled frequently.
“His dad was real strict with him,” said Doug Skutt, a cousin of Limbaugh’s who grew up with him. “When he sat down to eat he had to sit exactly straight up.”
Limbaugh and his father had a falling out, Skutt said, and Rodney Limbaugh acknowledged that he had spoken to his son only rarely over the years after a family split convinced Kevin Limbaugh “to only keep track of his mother’s side of the family.”
“I haven’t talked to him in quite a while,” Rodney Limbaugh said. “Last time I knew, he was in Bakersfield.”
Wells and Limbaugh’s father both said he never exhibited signs of mental illness, or anything that could explain the bizarre, typewritten note he left behind on his pillow before he shot himself in the head after police surrounded his home. The note accused Davis police of bombarding him for years with “ultra sonic waves” and said, “I can’t live this way anymore.”
The note was signed “Citizen Kevin Limbaugh.” Davis police said they have no record of Limbaugh ever complaining to them about sonic waves.
The note – and Limbaugh’s rampage – mystifies Wells.
“I can’t put my head around this, that he did this,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Wells has been married for 28 years and said she still wanted to stay in contact with Limbaugh over the years, but had little luck finding any details about him online.
In 1995 or 1996, she said, she got Limbaugh’s phone number from his uncle and called him for a brief chat.
“We talked briefly,” she said. “I told him I was married, that I had a son. I think I kind of broke his heart.”
Wells said that was the last time she talked to Limbaugh, or heard anything about him.
Then, on Jan. 20, 10 days after the shooting, she says “a premonition” woke her up at 3 a.m. and she thought of Limbaugh.
“I’d been trying to find him for the longest time but I could not find any mention of him at all,” she said. “I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to put his name in there.
“So I Googled his name and I could not believe what I was seeing. All of a sudden I’m reading all of this and I’m thinking, ‘It can’t be the same guy, it just can’t.’ ”
Wells and Skutt said they both are devastated for the Corona family, and that they wanted to discuss Limbaugh’s past to give people a sense of what he was like when they knew him.
“I’m so sorry for Ms. Corona, it just breaks my heart,” Wells said.