“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.”
A relative visiting the family’s doublewide trailer at the Deer Run mobile home park on Saturday couldn’t get anyone to answer the door but through a window glimpsed a child lying motionless on a bed.
Pierce County deputies called to the home 24km south-east of Tacoma 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 seven-year-old boy, had apparently 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.”
Earlier, police found the father dead in his still-running car near the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, about 28km north of Graham and 48km south of Seattle.
The father had apparently killed himself with a rifle, Auburn Police sergeant Scott Near said. No note was found.
The mother’s aunt, Penny Flansburg, identified the couple as Angela and James Harrison and the children as Maxine, Samantha, Heather, Jamie and James. 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 on Friday night that her parents had got into a fight and her mother had left. The father followed the mother and tried to get her to return, said Peden.
Carolyn and Raymond Bader, a former neighbour 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 regarding the children.