A quiet mobile home park nestled among towering evergreens reeled Sunday in the aftermath of an unthinkable crime: five children slain in their own home, apparently by their father, who took his own life with a gunshot miles away.
“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.”
A relative visiting the family’s doublewide trailer at the Deer Run mobile home park 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 15 miles southeast 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 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.”
Earlier Saturday, police found the father dead in his still-running car near the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, about 18 miles north of Graham and 30 miles south of Seattle.
The father had apparently killed himself with a rifle, Auburn Police Sgt. Scott Near said. No note was left in the car.
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 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.”