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Police: Dad killed 5 children because wife was leaving

Tammy Dettwiler comforts her sister, Penny Flansburg, front, near Graham, Wash., where five children belonging to their niece were discovered dead in their home Saturday afternoon.

Associated Press

Tammy Dettwiler comforts her sister, Penny Flansburg, front, near Graham, Wash., where five children belonging to their niece were discovered dead in their home Saturday afternoon.

GRAHAM, Wash. — A man who fatally shot his five children and killed himself had just discovered his wife was leaving him for another man, authorities said Sunday.

The bodies of James Harrison's children, ages 7 to 16, were found with multiple gunshot wounds Saturday in the family's mobile home, most of them in their beds. Harrison's body had been found earlier in the day with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, behind the wheel of his idling car.

The night before, the father and his eldest daughter went in search of his wife, Angela Harrison. The daughter used a GPS feature in her mother's cell phone to find her with another man at a convenience store in nearby Auburn, said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff.

The woman told her husband she was not coming home, and was leaving him for the man with her at the store. The father and the daughter left, distraught, Troyer said.

Sometime after the children went to sleep, he shot each of them multiple times. Four died in their beds. The fifth was found in the bathroom, surrounded by signs of violent struggle.

"He wanted the kids dead," Troyer said. "It wasn't like he shot a few rounds. He shot several rounds."

Investigators think he then returned to the area near the convenience store looking for his wife. His body was found near the store, Troyer said.

"We think he was going to go back to kill the wife," Troyer said. "He probably didn't find her and realized the gravity of what he'd done and shot himself."

Several weapons were found in the home.

Authorities have not released the names of the family. Relatives identified the couple as Angela and James Harrison and the children as Maxine, Samantha, Heather, Jamie and James.

Ryan Peden, Maxine's classmate, had 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, Peden said.

"Maxine texted me at 11 p.m. Friday. She said: "I'm tired of crying. I'm going to bed,' " he said. His text to her the next day went unanswered.

Candy Johnson, an aunt of the mother, described Harrison as a strict, controlling husband and father who didn't allow his wife to make decisions without asking him first.

"My niece has been so controlled from the time she was young," Johnson said, adding that Harrison had impregnated Angela when she was 13.

The home became a makeshift memorial Sunday as neighbors left cards and bouquets of flowers.

Even if police had immediately entered the immigrant center where a gunman shot 13 people, none would have survived because the victims' injuries were determined by medical examiners to have been too severe, Broome County District Attorney Gerald F. Mollen said Sunday. Police didn't enter the building until 45 minutes after the first 911 call. "We definitively can say nobody was shot after police arrival, and nobody who had been shot could have been saved even if the police had walked in the door within the first minute," Mollen said. Officials released a list of names and home countries of the victims. The victims came from China, Haiti, Pakistan, the Philippines, Iraq, Brazil, Vietnam and the United States. Officials have said the suspect, Jiverly Wong, 41, was apparently upset about losing his job and about people picking on him for his limited English. Wong shot himself.

The 911 call that brought two police officers to a home where they were ambushed and a third later killed during a four-hour siege Saturday was precipitated by a fight between the gunman and his mother over a dog urinating in the house. Margaret and Richard Poplawski's argument escalated to the point that she threatened to kick him out and she called police to do it, reports said. When officers arrived, Margaret Poplawski told them to come in, apparently unaware he was standing behind her with a rifle, the report said. He shot both officers in the head. The mother told police her son had been stockpiling guns and ammunition "because he believed that as a result of economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society." Richard Poplawski, 23, is charged with three counts of criminal homicide and nine counts of attempted homicide related to a standoff with a SWAT team.

Police: Dad killed 5 children because wife was leaving 04/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 5, 2009 10:19pm]
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