Valerie Harris awoke early Monday morning to a scene of flashing emergency lights and firefighters attempting to put out a blaze that had consumed much of her neighbor's home just a few footsteps away.
The 57-year-old single resident of the charred home was found dead behind the Flowery Branch residence on Railroad Avenue.
Hall County Fire Services investigators have said the fire was intentionally set. Authorities are not releasing Dennis Chadwick's cause of death, pending the completion of an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is expected to be completed this afternoon.
But Harris, who said her relationship with Chadwick soured over the years, said the man was found with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Flowery Branch Police Chief Gerald Lanich, as well as Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle,
neither confirmed nor denied that allegation. Both also said they cannot release whether Chadwick received any burns as a result of the fire.
"We are in a holding pattern as of now, waiting for reports. The autopsy still needs to be completed, and results for our samples from the fire scene are still pending," Cagle said. "I don't believe I am going to speculate about any other details until I receive confirmation of these tests."
"We have an idea, but we don't want to put ourselves out there until we know for sure," Lanich said.
Harris said she never heard any gunshots, but the stretch of homes sits mere yards from well-traveled train tracks.
Based on burn patterns on the floor of the 1,200-square-foot home, as well as "evidence collected in the house," Cagle determined the cause of the fire was not accidental.
"... It is suspicious in nature due to evidence collected, but we need to wait until all testing is complete and until the entire investigation is complete," he said. "This is to ensure the integrity of the case and to make sure all bases have been covered."
Despite the scene next door, Harris, along with husband Richard, wasn't in disbelief about the news that unfolded.
They said after having a close, neighborly relationship with Chadwick, a series of events later sent the neighbors in opposite directions.
"It's been a couple years since we have really had much to do with (Chadwick)," Richard Harris said.
The couple said Chadwick's behavior began to change in recent months.
"I think he was acting very strange lately," Valerie Harris said.
Don Baggett, though, had another opinion of the neighbor.
Baggett owns Authentic Furniture Refurbishing, which is also next door to Chadwick's home, and described his neighbor as "the nicest guy in the world."
Chadwick would keep an eye on Baggett's shop, going as far as setting up surveillance cameras aimed at his business.
Though Valerie Harris painted a different picture of Chadwick, she still is puzzled that anyone would seek vengeance against her neighbor.
"People didn't want to kill him, they just disliked him intensely," Valerie Harris said. "I personally think he was hiding from somebody."