Victim of suspected Virginia serial killer was dating him before he allegedly killed her

Authorities say he met victims while working for a traveling carnival

ELIZABETHTON, Va. – The family of one of the three women allegedly killed by a Virginia man says they are shocked by what happened. 

Authorities say James Wright, who is charged with killing two women and a teenage girl, met the victims while working as a subcontractor for a traveling carnival.

The sister of 21-year-old Marie Vanmeter, who was of one of the victims, says Vanmeter dated Wright for months and that she and her family can't believe what happened.

"She was a great person to be around; big personality, big smile, always loved joking around," said Jennifer Simons, Vanmeter's sister. 

Simons and her two daughters reflected on the life of Simon's little sister. 

"You go from almost relieved because you know what has happened, to angry," said Simons. "How could someone do this to your loved one? To devastated. You can't believe they're gone. It's a nightmare. This is the hardest thing anyone will ever have to face." 

Marie was adopted by the Vanmeter family when she was 6 years old. She was diagnosed with a mental disability and needed extra care, but was always happy.

"She was loving. She didn't know a stranger. She was very trusting," said Simons. 

At age 19, she left home and got a new job working with a traveling carnival. That's where she met James Wright and the two hit it off.

Vanmeter messaged her family, saying she'd like them to meet Wright. Then, earlier this year, the messages just stopped. About two weeks later the family got a phone call they never expected. 

"We didn't want to believe it, because nobody would want to believe something that bad could happen to somebody," said Jade Vanmeter, Marie's cousin. 

Officials say on or about Feb. 28, Wright shot and killed Marie after the two got into an argument. 

But Wright claims her death, along with those of the other two victims, was accidental.

Meanwhile, the family is finding some comfort in the fact that Marie's nightmare is over.  

"My sense of relief is that she's OK. She's not being tortured. She's not laying and suffering, and that's the most important thing. I don't want to picture her in pain," said Simons. 

Instead, they're picturing her as she always was -- with a smile on her face.