Authorities look for answers in murder, attempted arson

Hawkins County authorities look for answers in murder, attempted arson

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Christopher Varalli (source: Facebook) Christopher Varalli (source: Facebook)
The burned bathroom door is in the backyard, with evidence tags marking four gunshots. The burned bathroom door is in the backyard, with evidence tags marking four gunshots.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

SURGOINSVILLE (WATE) - Christopher Varalli, 36, was found dead Tuesday afternoon in the bathroom of a mobile home someone tried to set on fire. 

Reports of the fire brought first responders to the scene, but it turns out Varalli died of gunshot wounds, according to Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.

Neighbors and family members say they're shocked by what happened in Varalli's home on George Allen Road Tuesday afternoon.

The sheriff's office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are still searching for the possible suspect and the weapon that killed the victim.

"I heard noise which I thought was hammering where they're making the addition on the home. It was obviously gunshots what I heard," said Brandi Linkous.  

She lives next door and was the first call to the fire department at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday when she saw smoke coming from the home and heard the smoke detector. 

"We went inside to make sure nobody was inside the home and when we did that, the body was lying in the bathroom on the floor, already deceased," Linkous said.

Sheriff Lawson says the suspect tried to burn the body after Varalli was fatally wounded. The person or persons tore out part of the home to get to him.

The burned bathroom door is in the backyard, with evidence tags marking four gunshots.

"Someone attempted to start fire that didn't take, just caused a lot of smoke, burned a lot of rags. They were trying to destroy evidence and burn the body, but that didn't work," Sheriff Lawson said. 

Investigators say they don't know if Varalli knew the suspect. The sheriff says there was no forced entry, and Varalli ran for his life. 

"We feel like this is an isolated incident, for some reason he became a victim because somebody wanted to, it wasn't a random an act," said Lawson. 

Chris' father, Vito Varalli, spoke to 6 News from his home in Nebraska. "We have no idea as to who did this or why. There's no reason for this," he said. 

Neighbors say Christopher Varalli was a family man who kept an upbeat attitude, despite being laid off from his job at FedEx a few months ago.  

Varalli lived at the home with his wife, two children and step daughter. The others weren't home at the time of the shooting.

"They were friendly. They watched out for us. We watched out for them. They were good children. We have children here, too," Linkous said.  

Vito Varalli says the family is staying in the area with the family of Christopher Varalli's wife.  

The sheriff's office was called to the home twice in the 24 hours leading up to the arson and homicide. The sheriff says it was due to a domestic disturbance involving a juvenile.

That juvenile was at the Johnson City Detention Center during the homicide and is not considered a suspect.  

Varalli's body was sent to East Tennessee State University for an autopsy.

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