The Pasco elementary school teacher killed in a murder-suicide this week lived her life trying to help others.
Laura R. Cole, 35, was a champion for animals, children and senior citizens, said her father, Tom Cole. As a special education teacher, she was “always looking for creative new ways to engage each student so as to reach each one’s full potential,” he told the Herald.
Police believe Cole’s husband, Dustin A. G. Altshuler, 37, fatally shot her Wednesday before turning the gun on himself.
Altshuler, also a teacher in the Pasco School District, was on paid administrative leave from Pasco High following his arrest for allegedly groping a female taxi driver after a night of drinking last weekend.
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He’d been charged Wednesday with felony indecent liberties and was scheduled to appear before a judge Thursday. He was out of jail on $15,000 bail.
Pasco School District leaders said they were “deeply saddened” to learn of the teachers’ deaths.
“We will have counselors available at both schools this week to support the students and staff members who knew and worked with these teachers. Counselors will also be available to support students and staff members at other schools who have worked with these teachers previously,” the school district said in a statement.
Kennewick police went to Altshuler’s home at 2932 S. Keller Place in Canyon Lakes about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to do a welfare check after a relative reported being worried, said Sgt. Aaron Clem.
Nothing appeared suspicious, so officers couldn’t go inside, Clem said.
They returned about 3 p.m. after a relative went to the home, police said.
‘She will be sorely missed’
The couple married in 2017, according to county records.
Altshuler was hired by the school district full-time in 2016 and worked as a computer-assisted drafting and robotics teacher in the Career and Technical Education program.
He grew up in Yakima, attended Central Washington University and loved teaching after going into the profession about three years ago, his father told the Herald.
Bob Altshuler described his son as “a very helpful person and upright citizen.”
Dustin was loved by a lot of people, and those who knew him would be very surprised that all this happened, said Bob Altshuler.
He said his son and daughter-in-law were distraught about last weekend’s incident.
Cole, who also was hired in 2016, was a special education teacher at Whittier Elementary.
She taught at Stevens Middle School and the district’s Early Learning Center before moving to Whittier.
Cole grew up in Vermont, graduating first in her class at Essex Junction High School, said her father.
She loved animals so much that at one point she’d considered becoming a veterinarian.
She loved people, too, and she spent her life trying to help the most vulnerable.
After attending the University of Vermont, she worked with a local hospice and helped care for her ailing grandparents, her father said. “She was very kindhearted, caring and empathetic in working with seniors,” Tom Cole wrote in an email to the Herald.
Laura Cole eventually found her way to special education, earning a master’s degree in the field.
She moved west after visiting her sister and family in Seattle and then was hired by the Pasco School District, where she thrived.
“Feedback we got from (colleagues and administrators) while we visited Laura there from Vermont was always glowing,” Tom Cole wrote. She spent hours talking to her family about various special needs teaching models that she’d researched and ways she was organizing her materials to meet individual students’ needs, her father said.
“We also learned of feedback from many of her students’ parents who thanked her for the difference she’d made by year end, even in the short number of years she’d been in the area,” Tom Cole said.
Cole also was a published author, whose fantasy books for young adults are available on Amazon. She also made soap and leather goods and helped build her first home in Vermont, doing everything from helping mill the lumber to installing tile, he said.
And she was looking to new adventures, her father said — taking flying lessons, planning a trip to Hawaii for Christmas and visiting Vermont “to restore her love of the Green Mountains here.”
She “will be sorely missed by all,” Tom Cole said.
Court documents detail arrest
Court documents obtained by the Herald shed some light on what led to Altshuler’s arrest over the weekend.
The female cab driver was dispatched to pick up Altshuler about 10:30 p.m. Saturday at his home. He asked to be taken to The Office Bar & Grill near downtown Kennewick, court documents said.
When they arrived, Altshuler offered to pay the woman $100 “to come inside the bar with him and keep him out of fighting and any trouble,” court documents said.
The cab driver agreed, but a short time later told Altshuler she needed to get back to work.
She later told police that Altshuler “was acting very aggressively toward other patrons and made several statements to her about how he could start a fight,” court documents said.
Altshuler asked the woman to keep driving him around, but she said she’d take him home.
They were on Highway 395 when Altshuler — who was in the front passenger seat — talked about not wanting to go home and cranked up the music in the cab, documents said.
He then grabbed the driver by the back of the neck with his left hand, documents said.
The driver told police she had to grab his fingers to remove his hand, while telling Altshuler that he needed to calm down or he would have to get out of her cab.
Altshuler then needed to use the restroom, so the driver headed toward the Porter’s gas station at 27th Avenue and Highway 395, documents said. She also activated an emergency message on her car computer, which sends a “Help!” to the cab company’s dispatch.
The woman told police that Altshuler then “aggressively thrust his left hand between her legs” and groped her over her jeans, documents said. She said she became scared and again had to remove his hand from her body.
Altshuler looked at the driver and asked, “Why not me?” the woman reported.
She explained that she was working and was in a relationship, but Altshuler continued trying to persuade her, documents said.
Once at the gas station, Altshuler got out of the cab and went into the convenience store.
Meanwhile, the cab company had alerted 911 dispatchers that a driver was in need of help. The company initially said she was at 10th Avenue and 395, but then updated it to 27th Avenue.
An officer found the woman standing next to her open driver’s door, “crying hysterically and hyperventilating,” court documents said.
She had difficulty speaking, but was able to point to Altshuler inside the store and say he had grabbed her by the neck and between the legs. Additional officers arrived and, after getting the rest of the driver’s story, arrested a “highly intoxicated” Altshuler, documents said.
Thursday’s court hearing was canceled in light of the deaths, said Deputy Prosecutor Taylor A. Clark. She will file a dismissal order once she has a copy of Altshuler’s death certificate.
Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org