Authorities are trying to “keep an open mind” as they investigate the deaths of two children found shot inside their Hansen Park home, a Kennewick police official said Tuesday.
Few details have emerged in the deaths of Kaitlin Deborah Austin, 16, and Ethan Andrew Austin, 12, students at Kamiakin High School and Desert Hills Middle School.
Sgt. Ken Lattin noted there has been speculation in the community that the deaths were a murder-suicide. It’s too early to determine how they died, he said.
Investigators need time to piece evidence together and review the results of autopsies scheduled today, Lattin said.
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“It’s really important that we balance the needs of the family and victims with communicating to the public,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we are accurate. We have to be fair to the family.”
The bodies were found around 5 p.m. Monday in the house on West Third Avenue by Andrew Austin — stepfather of Kaitlin and father of Ethan — when he came home, police said.
A handgun was found near the bodies and police are trying to determine if the gun was used in the shooting, Lattin said. Police have not called the deaths homicides and they are not searching for any suspects.
There is no evidence that someone else was in the house, Lattin said. There were no signs of a break-in and everything seemed normal when responding officers checked the house.
Officers were back on the streets of the Hansen Park neighborhood Tuesday, talking with neighbors again and trying to track down possible surveillance footage from surrounding houses.
Investigators are reviewing social media sites for clues and are in the process of performing forensic analysis of cellphones, Lattin said. Officials plan to get together today to review the case.
Police found other guns in the house that were legally registered to Andrew Austin, Lattin said. He did not say what types of guns or how many.
The Austin family has been cooperating with the investigation and is “devastated” by the children’s deaths, Lattin said.
“To come home and find that, as a parent, is your worst nightmare,” he said. Kaitlin was a junior at Kamiakin and Ethan was a sixth-grader at Desert Hills, the district said.
Kaitlin played softball for Kamiakin and helped the school win back-to-back state championships. There was an outpouring of support for her from the softball community across the state on social media sites.
“Our school community is heartbroken over this loss of these young lives,” Superintendent Dave Bond said in a news release. “We are a large school district, but a very close community, and no one will be left untouched by this tragedy. Our prayers and concern are now with their family, friends and our staff members.”
A large crowd gathered late Monday night at Lawrence Scott Park after news of the shooting spread. People held candles on the baseball field as they remembered the Austin children.
Prayer vigils were also held Tuesday night at the Kennewick First Presbyterian Church. The church opened up its sanctuary for people in the community to come to pray for the children.
The prayer vigils were to try to lift the children’s family up through prayer and give them as much support as possible, Pastor Rob Hagen said. Family members attend the church and Ethan was a member of its Boy Scout program.
Many in the Scout program shed tears as they remembered Ethan on Tuesday night, Hagen said.
“He was an outstanding young man who loved the outdoors and was a great leader,” Hagen said. “Other young Scouts loved him. He was a great kid.”
By Tuesday night, a Facebook page dedicated to Kaitlin and Ethan had more than 6,900 likes. Friends, family, coaches and members of the community took to the Pray For Kate and Ethan Austin page to offer condolences and share memories of the children.
People posted pictures of the siblings together and many pictures of Kaitlin with her softball teammates, at dances and hanging out with friends.
Students at Kamiakin also posted a video of them singing a song to remember Kaitlin. A picture of a card for Ethan that classmates at Desert Hill made read “R.I.P. We’ll see you again some day.”
To view the Facebook page, go to http://on.fb.me/1kkuDac
-- Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson