DEER LODGE, Mont. » Police say a Montana man shot his wife with a handgun in the kitchen of their log home, then walked across the large, open room to where his 1-year-old baby lay in a crib.
They say the 59-year-old shot the child, walked outside, and as a dozen pairs of jeans and dungarees flapped from nearby clotheslines, he stepped onto his sprawling mountain property and shot his two other children, ages 4 and 6.
Nobody heard a thing on Sunday morning. The log cabin is on a mountain ridge in southwestern Montana’s Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest, so remote that it doesn’t have an address.
"It’s just kind of up in the wilderness," Anaconda-Deer Lodge Police Chief Tim Barkell said Monday, as he and his detectives reconstructed the grisly shooting about 15 miles southeast from the town of Deer Lodge. "That’s what took us so long to get there."
Authorities say the man carried the bodies back inside and arranged them on the bed. They say he took the baby from the bloody crib and placed the small body next to the others as his 37-year-old wife lay dead next to the kitchen table.
Then, police say, he phoned a friend.
"He called and said he killed his wife and kids, and now he was going to set the place on fire," Assistant Police Chief Bill Sather said.
The friend dialed 911, and authorities scrambled to find the remote cabin. Detective Steve Barclay said he arrived to find smoke pouring from the eaves, preventing him from going in.
After waiting an hour for firefighters to travel the pitted dirt road and find the cabin to put out the blaze, Barclay was the first to enter and find the bodies, including that of the 59-year-old man.
The man apparently set fire to a chair in the cabin before shooting himself, Barclay said. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the cabin, which remained standing.
Officers had not determined a motive for the shootings as of Monday, and officials hadn’t had a chance to fully interview the friend who made the 911 call, Barclay said.
The names of the shooter and the victims were being withheld because the police department and coroner were having a difficult time finding next of kin, Barkell said.
The family had moved to the home from out of state just a couple of years before, and authorities did not immediately know where they came from, the chief said. The shootings were the "first dealings we’ve ever had with them," he said.
The cabin sits in the middle of a sprawling property with semitrailers, tents and tools scattered across several acres. Fire officials circled the cabin with police tape, though gawkers were scarce.
The bodies have been taken to the state crime lab in Missoula.
Barkell said more information about the shootings would be released during a Tuesday news conference.
Hanson reported from Helena.