- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

UPDATED:

GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) — Investigators believe a father killed his five children and then himself after learning his wife was leaving him for another man, a sheriff’s spokesman said Sunday.

The children, aged 7 to 16, were found shot to death Saturday in the family’s mobile home in Graham, 15 miles southeast of Tacoma. The father was found earlier in the day, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot behind the wheel of his still-running car near the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, about 18 miles north of Graham and 30 miles south of Seattle.

The night before, the father and his eldest daughter went in search of the mother and found her with another man at a convenience store in Auburn, Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff, told the News Tribune of Tacoma.

“This is our theory of what happened,” Mr. Troyer said. “We’re still working to lock down everybody’s account of what happened and when.”

The woman told her husband she was not coming home and was leaving him for the man with her at the store.

“He was devastated,” Mr. Troyer said of the father. “There was confrontation there.”

Investigators believe he later killed his children and returned to the area near the convenience store looking for his wife. His body was found near the store, Mr. Troyer said.

Mr. Troyer did not immediately return calls from the Associated Press but confirmed his account to the newspaper via e-mail.

Authorities have not released the names of the family, but one of the mother’s aunts, Penny Flansburg, identified the couple as Angela and James Harrison and the children as Maxine, Samantha, Heather, Jamie and James.

Outside the mobile home, neighbors left cards and bouquets of flowers Sunday morning. The yellow crime-scene tape and dozens of investigators who responded to the scene on Saturday were gone. The home’s front yard was littered with the toys of a children who will never play again: unused bicycles, a swing set, a trampoline and a basketball hoop.

A few people drove slowly by the scene, a neatly kept mobile home in a quiet park nestled among towering evergreens.

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

He said school officials were making arrangements Sunday morning 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,” Mr. Davis said Sunday. “In a small community like this, we know these kids. Teachers know the kids. All the kids know the kids.”

Mr. 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; and the two youngest, Heather and James, were second-graders at Orting Primary School.

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

Ron Vorak, who lives across the street from the family’s trailer at the Deer Run mobile home park, 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,” Mr. 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.”

Pierce County deputies called to the home were confronted with a horror: four children murdered in their beds and the fifth slain in the bathroom. The four girls and the youngest child, a 7-year-old boy, apparently had been shot to death.

“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.”

The father apparently killed himself with a rifle, Auburn Police Sgt. Scott Near said. No note was left in the car. The father worked as a diesel mechanic, and the mother works at Wal-Mart, Ms. Flansburg said.

She was at a loss to explain the crime.

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

Ryan Peden, a classmate of the eldest daughter, 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, he said.

Carolyn and Raymond Bader, former neighbors 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 story.

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