GEESEYTOWN - Shortly before he left his house Friday and killed three seemingly random people in a Geeseytown shooting spree, Jeffrey Lee Michael - a man who'd struggled with tragedy and family disputes for years - called a close friend and told him to turn on the TV.
"He said, 'You've seen things happen in my life before and warned me. Now I'm going to warn you,'" said Bob Socie of Lakemont, who knew Michael for years and considered him "like a son."
Socie said Michael told him: "The war is right here. The hour is here. ... If I don't talk to you again, next time I talk to you will be with the Lord."
It wasn't the first time Michael had spoken in apocalyptic terms, Socie said. Michael, a truck driver who lived with a girlfriend near the church where his rampage began, had become increasingly fascinated by end-of-the-world predictions as Friday approached.
Friday's date, Dec. 21, 2012, was widely discussed as the end of the ancient Mayan calendar and was considered among more outlandish theorists as the day of the apocalypse.
By then, Michael's personal struggles - developing slowly over years - had reached a crescendo.
He'd long struggled with what Socie described as post-traumatic stress after October 2009, when an apparently suicidal woman leaped in front of his tractor-trailer on Route 322 in Centre County.
In February 2010, amid a contentious divorce and custody battle over his two sons, his ex-wife filed for a protection-from-abuse order.
The court order, approved when the family lived in East Freedom, barred Michael from contacting his now-ex-wife and awarded her temporary custody of the children.
The breakup devastated him, Socie said.
In the order, his wife listed more than a dozen cases of alleged abuse: He broke her finger, forced her to have sex with him and kept her from communicating with friends, she said. The order noted that Michael kept guns in his house and told police to confiscate them should he be arrested.
"I'm constantly looking for trucks to pull in or him walking through our front door," she said in the court filing. "He has shown up at my work unannounced and harassed me there."
Socie said the accusations - made in the midst of a bitter marital dispute - didn't square with the Michael he knew.
"Jeff was just a really nice guy. He never wanted to hurt anybody," Socie said. "He was a gun enthusiast, but he never flaunted them, never shoved them in people's faces."
Socie referenced a second fatal accident, one that deepened Michael's personal strain: A car struck his tractor-trailer during a cross-state trip, and Michael saw the driver's body before emergency workers arrived.
"I just believe it took a toll," Socie said.
In recent months, with child-support bills piling up and insurance money from a work injury insufficient to cover expenses, Michael began worrying that he'd be arrested for failure to make payments, Socie said.
Reportedly a religious man, Michael had previously attended the Fields of Harvest Fellowship, a church in Altoona.
Pastor Hud Crossman said Michael hadn't attended in years, though his ex-wife and family still have connections there.
As Michael became increasingly obsessed with the end of the world - watching TV specials, seeking information online and reading the Bible's final chapters, the Book of Revelation - Socie tried to counsel him as best he could.
"I told him, 'We don't have to worry about end times, man," he said.
Concerned about his friend's behavior, Socie said he reminded Michael of the biblical commandments for understanding and forgiveness - noting that those who kill others or themselves can't enter heaven.
Michael didn't heed his advice.
Shortly after his final phone call to Socie, he set out on a killing spree of about 2 miles, fatally shooting Kimberly A. Scott, 58, of Duncansville in a church before killing Kenneth Lynn, 60, a neighbor, and William Rhodes Jr., 38, a motorist after a head-on collision.
The massacre ended only when state police, wounded by Michael's gunfire, killed him in a hail of bullets.
Socie stressed that there's no excusing, or even explaining, what his longtime friend did Friday.
"I hate the thought that this happened. We pray for the families that lost their loved ones there," he said.
Michael's family, apparently from the Midwest, were en route to Pennsylvania on Friday after Socie called them and told them of their relative's death, he said.
His girlfriend in Geeseytown is emotionally devastated, Socie said. Crossman said Michael's ex-wife and sons are in counseling, as well.
Citing Michael's killing spree - and a Dec. 11 Oregon mall shooting and the Dec. 14 massacre of schoolchildren and staff at a Connecticut elementary school - Socie and his wife, Linda, offered advice to the survivors.
"People should grab hold of their families and hug them and tell them they love them," Linda Socie said. "Because you never know what tomorrow's going to bring."
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens contributed to this story. Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.