A father apparently shot to death five of his children, ages seven to 16, at their mobile home and then killed himself near a casino kilometers away, police said.
Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the sheriff, called it a domestic violence situation and a murder-suicide.
“We believe they all died of gunshot wounds,” Troyer said on Saturday.
Police found the father’s body early on Saturday in his running car near the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn, about 48km south of Seattle. He had apparently killed himself with a rifle, although no note was left in the car, Auburn Police Sergeant Scott Near said.
Later in the day, deputies checked the mobile home, which is about 32km southeast of the casino, and found four of the children dead in their beds and the fifth in the bathroom.
Neighbors in the Deer Run mobile home park, a neat, well-kept community nestled among towering evergreens, were shocked.
“How could something like this happen?” asked Mary Riplinger, whose kids were playmates of the slain children. “Everyone’s asking: Why did he do it? It’s not right.”
The mother of the victims was not at home, Troyer said. Deputies were called to the mobile home after a relative stopped by and saw a child lying motionless on a bed through a window, but couldn’t get anyone to answer the door.
He said investigators believe the husband and wife were not estranged.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor described the crime as a “horrible thing.”
“This was not a tragedy. It was a rotten murder,” 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.”
Ryan Peden, a classmate of the eldest daughter, said she told him on 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.
Authorities did not release the names of the family, but Troyer identified the dead children as four girls and a seven-year-old boy.
Dozens of investigators were on the scene trying to reconstruct the crime and discover a motive.