Friends remember slain Kennewick kids (w/gallery & video)

June 11, 2014 

A giant cluster of multi-colored balloons rose into the sky Wednesday afternoon and drifted toward the Hansen Park neighborhood where Kaitlin and Ethan Austin lived.

Friends and classmates of the siblings wiped away tears as they watched the colorful balloons slowly disperse and eventually disappear. A group of Kaitlin’s teammates and close friends surrounded the mound where the 16-year-old once pitched for Kamiakin High School. Others held hands along the baselines and in the outfield.

Hundreds gathered at the park to release balloons in memory of the Austin children, who were found shot to death in their home Monday night.

“It was pretty powerful because it was so visual,” said Austin Molt, a youth pastor who spoke at the event. “As these people released the balloons, there were tears and down faces, but it was really special because the moment they were released, people started talking to each other about Kate and the Austin family.”

Investigators released no new information about the shooting Wednesday, saying they need to review the results of the two autopsies.

A Bellevue doctor was in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday to help conduct the two autopsies, officials said. Officials plan to discuss their findings with the Austin family before talking about the case publicly.

Both of the siblings were found shot in a bedroom at the home on West Third Avenue, police said. A handgun was found near the bodies and police have not been searching for any suspects.

There were no signs of a break-in at the house and the Austin family has been cooperating with the investigation, said Sgt. Ken Lattin, Kennewick police spokesman. Andrew Austin — Kaitlin’s stepfather and Ethan’s father — found the children about 5 p.m.

As investigators continue to sort through evidence, the community rallied together to comfort each other and offer support for the Austin family through prayer vigils, artwork and Facebook memory pages.

Kamiakin High students used social media to promote Wednesday’s event. The colorful balloons were picked to represent multiple schools in the Tri-Cities and show unity among the students.

Tanner Owens, Kaitlin’s classmate who helped organize the event, was amazed by the turnout and the way the community has come together in the face of tragedy, he said.

“Everyone was so supportive,” Tanner said. “Everybody came out and took 30 minutes out of their day to do something bigger than all of us. Kate and Ethan are up there smiling because of the amount of support.”

Kenzie Cooper, another classmate who also helped organize the event, said it was nice to see students gathering together because the mood at Kamiakin has been somber.

“Everybody at Kamiakin knew Kate,” she said, “She was the light of Kamiakin.”

Friends described Kaitlin as someone with an infectious smile who had a knack for fitting in any social circle. She loved softball, art, her longtime boyfriend and making friends laugh. She also was close to her family, especially her mother and grandparents, they said.

“Her friends loved her so much. Kate was always so understanding and listened to others. If I ever had something to get off my chest, I could always go to her and she would always listen to me,” Kassidy Arnold said. “I'm glad I can call someone like her my best friend.”

Another close friend, Cassie Ramsey, said although Kaitlin’s passion for life and vibrant personality will be missed, she will forever live in the hearts of her many friends.

“She just took people’s breath away the way she presented herself. Everyone loved her personality,” Cassie said. “She knew how to make everyone laugh, even if she was down, she would make others feel better. That's just the way Kate was. (She) didn't care about herself as much as she did others.”

A chalk mural of Kaitlin, a junior, in her No. 18 Kamiakin jersey holding a softball was drawn by student Emily Berner at the school. Part of the mural — which has a message to Kaitlin in pink and purple writing — read, “Your personality could make even a rainbow look dull. You will always be remembered.”

Ethan, 12, was a Boy Scout who loved to be outdoors, build fires and play golf, friends said. A sixth-grader at Desert Hills Middle School, Ethan enjoyed dressing up and some friends wore ties Wednesday in his honor.

Ethan attended church at First Presbyterian Church in Kennewick and was a leader to many kids in his troop, Pastor Rob Hagen told the Herald.

He was a patrol leader in Troop 148 and would go out of his way to help his friends, said Josh Sheridan, 16, a member of the troop and Ethan’s friend. Ethan was close to his family and took pride in trying to befriend everyone, he said. “He was the best person you will ever meet,” Josh said. “He always had a smile on his face. He always knew what to say and led us all by being himself.”

Josh, a Kamiakin student, spoke to fellow Scouts at a meeting this week and is trying to help the troop cope with Ethan’s death, he said. “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster — anger, sadness and asking the question, ‘Why?’ ” Sheridan said. “I know that’s the same way for Kate.”

-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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