PLATTE, S.D. (AP) — The killing by a father of his wife and four children and the grim discovery of their charred remains has shaken a small rural community in South Dakota.
Authorities believe Scott Westerhuis fatally shot his wife and four children on Thursday, torched their house near Platte then turned the shotgun on himself, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
"I just feel sorry for the family and friends," Ken Lieuwen, a hardware store owner and distant cousin of Scott Westerhuis, said Tuesday. "There's anger at Scott, and disbelief that the family is gone."
Preliminary autopsy results show all six members of the Westerhuis family died of shotgun wounds. The bodies of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their children Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael were found in the burned ruins of their home.
"It's hard for us to determine exactly if he (Scott Westerhuis) started the fire, but that's the only thing that makes sense," Jackley's spokeswoman Sara Rabern told The Associated Press.
A passer-by reported the blaze at the home near Platte early Thursday morning, but the fire chief said it was all but destroyed by the time firefighters arrived.
Authorities did not immediately name the victims, but the Platte-Geddes school superintendent has said Kailey was a third-grader, Jaeci a fifth-grader, Connor an eighth-grader and Michael a high school sophomore were killed.
The deaths rocked the 1,200-strong community of Platte, about 110 miles west of Sioux Falls.
Tami Smit said she has 10- and 13-year-old daughters who went to school with the Westerhuis children. Her daughters were already mourning the loss of their classmates when she had to tell them about the apparent murder-suicide, Smit said.
"It's a whole another set of emotions for the kids to process," she said. "This is something that all of our kids are going to need help with for who knows how long."
Scott and Nicole Westerhuis both worked for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, providing speech, language and hearing services to schools.
"We join the community of Platte as we grieve the loss of lives that will impact this community for the foreseeable future," Mid-Central Superintendent Dan Guericke said in a statement.