DALLAS — It was the first party she had thrown on her own — a chance to reclaim her independence.
He had been stewing in his apartment, depressed and alone.
Meredith and Spencer Hight had once been the center of each other's worlds. But family and friends say their marriage had begun to crumble long ago. The fuse was lit before the ugly Facebook posts, the divorce papers and, finally, the gunfire that turned their home into a bloody crime scene.
Police say Spencer Hight burst into Meredith's cookout in Plano on Sunday, killing the 27-year-old and seven others in one of North Texas' worst mass shootings in recent memory.
On Tuesday, a picture began to emerge of how their lives had become intertwined and then unraveled.
When Spencer crashed Meredith's football watch party, he turned the gun on some of his own friends, including 31-year-old Rion Morgan, who had stood by him when he said "I do" to Meredith.
An officer who responded to the attack fatally shot Spencer, 32.
Spencer's other victims were Anthony "Tony" Cross, 33; Olivia Deffner, 24; James Dunlop, 29; Darryl William Hawkins, 22; Myah Bass, 28; and Caleb Edwards, 25. A ninth victim, who hadn't been named, remained hospitalized.
Police combed the crime scene Tuesday as yellow tape fluttered in the breeze. Two days earlier, Meredith's neighbors had seen her friends grilling and heard their laughter.
It all stopped with gunfire — the unimaginable end to a marriage sealed on a sunny day under a canopy of trees in Jamaica.
Meredith's mother, Debbie Lane, said the couple had met when Meredith transferred from her Georgia college to the University of Texas at Dallas to study mathematics.
Spencer and Meredith were neighbors at an apartment complex. Friendship bloomed into romance.
"We just had this fire, this chemistry," Spencer told a friend about his attraction to Meredith.
Records show the couple got married in Collin County in September 2011. They exchanged ceremonial vows during a Caribbean cruise the following year.
Spencer started out as a loving husband, Lane said. Meredith documented those happy first years on Instagram: the concerts, the home-cooked meals, the Game of Thrones watching sessions.
"Pretty much what I live for," she wrote under a selfie with Spencer in early 2015.
But Lane said she and her husband noticed something was off with Spencer. When they visited the couple, he would retreat to his room and to his computer. It wasn't until later, she said, that the Lanes discovered he had a drinking problem.
Guns, knives, swords
A friend of Spencer's, who briefly dated him and asked to remain anonymous because of her fear of social media attacks, described a free-spirited guy who loved dogs, art and the Renaissance. He was "head over heels" for Meredith during the first years of their marriage.
But he also was a "party animal" who drank a lot and had a short temper, she said. And he had guns and a love for knives and swords.
Lane said Spencer lost his job doing contract work for Texas Instruments around the time that he and Meredith bought the Plano house in 2015. Meredith, who worked for Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages in Fort Worth, was shouldering the mortgage by herself and gave Spencer time to get his act together, her mother said.
"She took her marriage vows very seriously," Lane said.
Spencer told his friend that Meredith was understanding at first but then hounded him for not contributing.
Meredith filed for divorce in July. It was then that she told her parents that Spencer had been violent at least twice — including a time last fall when he slammed her face against a wall. But Lane said her daughter hadn't reported the incidents to police.
Spencer's family couldn't be reached for comment. In April, he logged on to Facebook and described 2017 as the "toughest year to date."
On her own
Meredith, a talented cook, had often entertained people with her husband. Her mother said that her gathering on Sunday was the first party she was hosting on her own.
A few days before the shooting, Spencer and his friend messaged each other online. He seemed sad and lonely, she remembers. She told him to make good choices and not to drink or turn to drugs.
Now, one line keeps running through her head.
It's a question, she said, that Spencer kept repeating: "How can the one person you're supposed to love more than life itself end up being the one person you hate more than life itself?"
When Meredith filed for the divorce, she didn't request a restraining order against Spencer. She wasn't afraid of him, her mother said.
"I wish she had been."
Dallas Morning News staff writers Kyle Martin, Claire Ballor, Elvia Limon, Marc Ramirez, Tom Steele, TyLisa Johnson and Jennifer Emily contributed to this report.