- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

GRAHAM, WASH. (AP) - Neighbors left cards and bouquets of flowers Sunday at the mobile home where five children ages 7 to 16 were slain, apparently by their father, who also took his own life.

Authorities had not yet determined what might have driven James Harrison to slaughter his family.

The yellow crime-scene tape and dozens of investigators who responded to the scene on Saturday were gone Sunday. The home’s front yard was littered with children’s toys: bicycles, a swing set, a trampoline and a basketball hoop.

“How do you make sense out of something like this?” asked Jeff Davis, superintendent of the 2,100-student Orting School District where the children attended school.

Four of the children were shot in their beds and the fifth was shot in the bathroom in Graham, 15 miles southeast of Tacoma, Pierce County deputies said.

Neighbor Ron Vorak said he called 911 at about 3:20 p.m. Saturday after one of the family’s relatives couldn’t get anyone to answer the door.

“He knocked on the door, and knocked on a couple of windows,” Vorak said of the relative. “He walked around the side of the house, looked into the window. He could see somebody laying on the bed.”

Earlier Saturday, police had found the 34-year-old Harrison dead in his still-running car near the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, about 18 miles north of Graham and 30 miles south of Seattle.

He had apparently killed himself with a rifle, Auburn Police Sgt. Scott Near said. No note was left in the car.

“This was not a tragedy. It was a rotten murder,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said. “This appears to be the terrible work of the biological father. If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what does.”

School officials were making arrangementst to have grief counselors available when teachers and students returned to school.

“We’re going to try to get through this the best we can given the circumstances,” Davis said. “In a small community like this, we know these kids. Teachers know the kids. All the kids know the kids.”

Davis said the eldest, Maxine Harrison, was a 10th grader at Orting High School. Jamie was in the eighth grade and her sister Samantha in the sixth grade at Orting Middle School. The two youngest, Heather and James, were second-graders at Orting Primary School.

“How could something like this happen?” asked Mary Ripplinger, whose kids were playmates of the slain children. “Everyone’s asking: Why did he do it? It’s not right.”

Authorities have not released the names of the family, but the mother’s aunt, Penny Flansburg, identified the couple as Angela and James Harrison. The father worked as a diesel mechanic, and the mother works at Wal-Mart, Flansburg said.

She was at a loss to explain the crime.

“They were pleasant together,” Flansburg said. “We can’t even figure out why.”

Ryan Peden, a classmate of the eldest daughter, who was 16, said she told him Friday night that her parents had gotten into a fight and her mother had left. The father followed the mother and tried to get her to return, said Peden, 16.

Carolyn and Raymond Bader, a former neighbor of the family, told The Seattle Times they often heard the father yelling at the children. The Baders said they called the sheriff’s department and Child Protective Services several times with their concerns.

“We did all we could to help these kids,” Raymond Bader said. “We tried to protect these kids. We did what we could.”

One neighbor, Sherre Lund, who lives in the mobile home park, signed a community notebook left in from of the family’s house. She wrote: “God Bless the five little ones. God bring peace to Mom.”


Associated Press photographer Ted S. Warren contributed to this report.

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