Benton County officials ruled the deaths of two Kennewick siblings a murder-suicide Friday, saying a sixth-grader shot his teen stepsister multiple times before turning the gun on himself.
It’s been four months since Kaitlin Austin, 16, and Ethan Austin, 12, were found dead in a bedroom inside their Hansen Park home.
New details about the deaths of the Kamiakin junior and the Desert Hill student were released Friday as law enforcement officials announced their investigation is nearly complete.
Authorities say the investigation revealed no clear motive for the shooting. Scott Johnson, a Kennewick attorney hired by the Austin family, told the Herald everything seemed “normal” the day of the incident and it’s unclear why Ethan shot his stepsister.
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“There is no evidence of what the motivation was,” Johnson said. “Without that you are left to speculate.”
The weapon used in the shooting was a handgun owned by Drew Austin, father of Ethan and stepdad to Kaitlin, Johnson said. The gun, found near the bodies, had been locked in a bedroom safe to which Ethan had access.
It’s unclear if the gun was loaded while in the safe, but there was ammunition in the house, Johnson said. Ethan — a Boy Scout who hunted with his father — was allowed to handle guns in the home under his parents’ supervision.
Officials say other guns registered to Drew Austin were in the home at the time of the shooting.
Ethan did not have any known mental health issues and apparently wasn’t on any kind of medication, Johnson said. Toxicology tests on both children came back negative.
There is no indication the shooting was planned or that there was hostility between the siblings, Johnson said.
Drew Austin found his children inside Kaitlin’s bedroom when he came home around 5 p.m. June 9.
Kaitlin, a pitcher on Kamiakin’s state championship softball teams, was shot multiple times in the head and torso, according to John Hansens, Benton County coroner. Ethan had a single gunshot wound to the head.
Johnson did not want to discuss certain details of the crime scene or how many times Kaitlin was shot, he said.
Hansens and authorities chose not to release any additional information about specifics of the shooting out of respect for the Austin family.
Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg told the Herald the investigation “for all intents and purposes” is done. Police waited to release more information to ensure it was as thorough as possible, he said.
“It’s the age of the victims and we are talking about a good family, in a good neighborhood. It could happen anywhere in Kennewick,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances. Certainly there has to be a grieving process and a healing process. We are just trying to help with that.”
Multiple prayer vigils were held in the community in the days following the deaths. Both children were remembered in a service in the Kamiakin High School gym with family and friends.
Johnson said his clients — who have not spoken to local media about the shooting — are doing the best they can to move forward with their lives and honor their two children.
“No motive and no reason would never fully explain what happened. You have a young mother and father who are very nice people, and they had two kids who were very nice kids,” Johnson said. “It’s difficult for them beyond belief to reconcile what they know to be true, what the outside world knows to be true and what happened on June 9.”
Tyler Richardson: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson