TEKAMAH, Neb. — Jeffrey Layten was the popular operator of a hunting lodge, known for his easygoing personality.
His Upland Fields Hunt Club attracted some of the state's most prominent political and business leaders, who looked to Layten for guidance in bagging ring-necked pheasant and wild turkey.
He was an Army veteran, skilled hunter and, by all appearances, a family man.
That's why people who knew Layten were stunned by his actions this week.
Layten fired a .45-caliber handgun at a group of Omaha police officers Wednesday at Creighton University Medical Center. Two officers returned fire, severely wounding the 39-year-old, who died later at the hospital.
Funeral services for Layten are pending.
His estranged wife, Courtney, told authorities that Layten had assaulted her Tuesday night at her home near Tekamah. She said he told her he was heading to La Vista to kill his mother-in-law and sister-in-law.
Layten, reportedly armed with two rifles and a handgun, led La Vista police on a high-speed pursuit and crashed his pickup.
Then came his final confrontation with Omaha police.
“It's just bizarre. This is really out of character,'' said U.S. Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha, who had visited Layten's lodge a half-dozen times.
William Ulrich of La Vista, Layten's father-in-law, said Jeffrey and Courtney Layten had been married less than 10 years. They had two young daughters together, ages 4 and 18 months.
Ulrich said the couple had their ups and downs.
“It's like your marriage and mine,” he said. “It's a work in progress, good days and bad days.”
Ulrich described his son-in-law as an “unbelievably great father” who adored his children.
“I don't know what happened,” he said. “I was proud to have him as my son-in-law.”
The Laytens owned the hunting lodge, which is just west of Tekamah. It features a clubhouse and bar, small cabins for hunters and a sporting clays course.
Besides Terry, others who hunted at the preserve included U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson — though Nelson said through a spokesman that he did not know Layten — and Omaha attorney James Martin Davis.
Scott Bruhn, who owns Pheasant Haven Hunting Acres northwest of Omaha, said he bought pheasants from Layten a few times when Layten worked for a bird breeder near Valley.
“He hunted out here a little bit,'' Bruhn said. “He was a great shot. He was a very, very good wingshooter.''
Bruhn said Layten's hunt club has a good reputation among upland bird hunters.
“He was very good at what he did,'' he said.
Bruhn said it was difficult for him to comprehend Layten's actions.
“You don't know the inner core,'' he said.
Terry called Layten “a straightforward, fun-loving guy, a good guy. I never saw any strange behavior from him or anything.''
Layten, Terry said, “ran a really great operation out there. People loved Jeff.”
Davis said he often hunted with Layten.
“I and most of the politicians in the state of Nebraska have hunted with him on numerous occasions,” Davis said. “In fact, I was scheduled to go up there and hunt with him as soon as the turkey season opened.”
Davis said Layten had worked as a tour guide at Alaska's Denali National Park. He was a former Army Scout.
He joined the Army in January 1989. He served two years of active duty at Fort Knox in Kentucky before becoming a reservist.
“I can't imagine that Jeff Layten, in his right mind, would pull a firearm and shoot at an Omaha police officer,” Davis said. “There had to be something terribly wrong. He had to snap.”
Judy Modlin, a friend of Layten's, operates the Liberty Inn tavern in Craig, Neb.
A tearful Modlin said Layten often pitched in around the bar while her husband was away at work. She said Layten had recently fixed the plumbing and re-tiled the floor at the tavern and built a new deck at her house.
“This is not the man I know,'' she said.
World-Herald staff writers David Hendee, Andrew J. Nelson, Juan Perez Jr. and Bob Glissmann contributed to this report.
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