Media, Pennsylvania is the county seat for Delaware County. Visually charming, it houses a quaint, historic downtown that is typical in the east coast, a playhouse, and pleasant surrounding residential areas. The homicide rate is (or was at the time) very low in the Media area.
I had a handful of scenes in this town, and usually they were natural deaths. One scene I recall vividly was anything but natural; it involved the domestic shooting of 4 minors and a subsequent suicide.
In March of 1999, I returned home from a conference in New Orleans and stopped by the office at the onset of evening shift change to talk to a couple of my coworkers. Due to the nature of our crazy schedules, shift changes were about the only times anyone could find the investigators together unless we planned some off-duty activity well in advance. This particular evening, I found my colleagues relaxed and cheerful after a relatively quiet week.
Minutes after I arrived, the phones began to ring, and the on-duty pager blared simultaneously. County CID reported multiple homicides via gunshot in nearby Media. Our on-duty investigator was just leaving, and the investigator relieving him did not ask him to stay and help. Feeling refreshed from a week off and recognizing that this was clearly not a one-person scene, I volunteered to go.
Immediately outside of the scene, the environment was chaotic. I don't recall another scene with so many emergency personnel, police, and politicians present as that night when they all hovered around the little house. The chief of CID (who was mostly an administrator and rarely did scene work any longer) arrived. In my then three-year tenure at the office, I had not met him before that night. The press arrived before we did, thus contributing to the overall chaos.
Inside the house was not any better. The Media P.D. and CID had secured the scene very well, but there were still too many people, living and dead, and there was far too much blood. Furthermore, some of the blood was tracked throughout the house, as four of the five bodies remained, but one victim had been transported to the local trauma center. He was declared brain dead several days later, and I witnessed his official pronouncement of death before his organs were recovered for donation.
The circumstances of the incident were reported to us as follows: A woman and her two children were at home and two neighborhood teens were over visiting. The woman’s husband, from whom she had just obtained a Protection From Abuse order, forcibly entered the house, walking through the kitchen past his estranged wife and into the living room where the children were gathered. It seems that he first shot his mentally handicapped teenage son in the back, then each of the boys who were visiting, then his 7 year-old daughter. Then he shot himself.
Reconstructing the scene was not difficult from a technical standpoint, but it was very involved, and therefore long. From start to finish the scene took about 6-7 hours to process. While we all certainly had longer scenes from time to time, that length was not typical.
I don’t remember how many bullets were in each decedent or where they entered and exited, but I do remember these details: The teenage son of the perpetrator was shot in the back. His daughter was shot twice in the anterior chest; one was from close range, and the other was a contact shot. What this means is that the 7 year-old's father was facing her and standing no farther than arm’s length away when he fired one of the shots, and he was pressing the gun against her chest when he fired the other.
I cannot imagine the state of mind he must have been in. I comprehend the mechanics of his actions, and intellectually can grasp that he was mentally ill. I can even cogitate what he likely hoped to accomplish (punishing his wife), but I don’t truly understand.
After the detectives performed their duties, we processed our part of the scene. We all did the best we could. It was messy, crowded, and disturbing. When we got to the point of removing the bodies for transport, one by one, the officers and detectives exited the scene. After the two adolescents and one adult were moved to the van for transport to the morgue, we had no more stretchers available. As I secured paper evidence bags over the little girl's hands and around her wrists and placed her in a too-large body bag, only my colleague remained in the house. After making sure that I was physically capable of carrying her alone, he, too, went outside. While he always performed his job with the utmost consideration and professionalism, - even when difficult - he knew I understood that this was the toughest part for him, as he is a parent who has lost a child.
So I carried her out of the house in my arms and placed her in the van with the others.
Several of the investigating officers and other personnel later told me that they couldn’t watch me carry her out, and said they wouldn't have been able to help even if I had asked.
I didn’t ask.