For loved ones of family killed in murder-suicide, no making sense of deaths

Doug Brown with disabled daughter Carmina, left, and wife Elena.
Doug Brown with disabled daughter Carmina, left, and wife Elena.

The Kennewick man who fatally shot his wife and daughter last month before turning the gun on himself struggled with depression at various points in his life.

Doug Brown had at least one episode as a young man, and he told a family member two weeks before his death that he’d been feeling “a heavy weight of depression” recently.

The 64-year-old retired Navy captain was getting help.

He was seeing a counselor, and he had an appointment for mid-December at a stress and anxiety center in the Seattle area, although that session apparently was canceled — by Doug or someone else. His relatives don’t know.

Then on Dec. 11, a caregiver arrived at the Brown family’s Panoramic Heights home to find Doug, wife Elena and disabled daughter Carmina all dead from single gunshot wounds.

The murder-suicide was a terrible shock, said Clifford Brown, Doug’s older brother.

(He seemed) engaged with life, full of energy, and anticipating the future.

Benita Brown, Doug Brown’s younger sister

The family — like the community — is left bewildered and reeling, struggling to understand Doug’s actions.

Doug apparently was taking zolpidem, used to treat insomnia. An empty bottle of the prescription medication — Ambien is a brand name — was found at the house.

Clifford Brown said his brother may also have been taking an anti-depressant, although he doesn’t know that for sure. He wonders if that possible combination could have been a factor in what happened.

History of depression

Clifford, who lives in Peru, knew his brother had experienced depression decades before but wasn’t aware of a recent issue, he said.

Benita Brown, Doug and Clifford’s younger sister, said Doug discussed his depression with her a couple of days after Thanksgiving.

The Tri-City woman was surprised, because during the holiday celebration he’d shared stories of his recent trip to Europe with Elena and Carmina, where they celebrated Elena’s mother’s 95th birthday, and Doug ran two marathons.

“He talked about future plans for projects around their house, about traveling to run more marathons, for a skiing trip to Colorado with an old friend from high school,” Benita wrote in an email to the Herald.

He seemed “engaged with life, full of energy, and anticipating the future” at that time, she said.

When he later spoke to his sister about his depression, he said he’d been struggling for several months and that his wife had been concerned enough at one point to contact the local Crisis Response Unit.

Elena and Carmina likely were sleeping — they were found in their beds.

He turned in some firearms to police after Crisis Response suggested he remove weapons from his home, Benita said.

Her brother mentioned his earlier depression struggle, but didn’t go into details, she said. It apparently was in his college or early Navy days, and he received help at the time.

Doug didn’t write a note explaining himself — at least not one that’s been found.

Toxicology tests are pending on all three Browns. The results are expected soon.

Police said they found no open alcohol containers or evidence of drugs, and there was no history of abuse or evidence of a struggle inside the home.

Elena and Carmina likely were sleeping. They were found in their beds.

An accomplished pair

Like Doug, Elena was a 64-year-old retired Navy officer.

She was born in Madrid, Spain, and moved to the U.S. as a child, graduating from high school in Texas. She attended Seattle University and then joined the Navy, meeting Doug in officer candidate school.

Doug was born in Seattle and grew up largely in the Tri-Cities, part of Pasco High School’s Class of 1969. He went on to Whitman College and then military service.

Doug and Elena each received commissions as naval officers in 1975, and they married in 1977.

“Their Navy service took them to many parts of the world, including Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines and Germany,” the family’s obituary said.

Doug left active duty in 1985, but stayed part of the Navy Reserve until his retirement in 2005 as a captain.

Elena retired from active duty in 1995 at the rank of commander.

Modern Living Services leaders plan a memorial tree and bench at Kennewick Perry Suites in honor of the Browns.

The husband and wife, who each held master’s degrees, succeeded in civilian careers, working for high-profile consulting firms.

The family moved to the Tri-Cities in 2004, and Doug and Elena became active in the community.

Doug served as president of the Panoramic Heights Homeowners Association and helped start the Horse Heaven Hills Kiwanis Club.

Elena was a founder of the nonprofit Modern Living Services and served on the board of The Arc of Tri-Cities.

She also worked as a substitute teacher in Kennewick and Pasco.

Devoted to their daughter

Carmina, 27, who had a chromosomal abnormality and was intellectually disabled, also found her place in the Tri-Cities.

She attended Southridge High School, graduating in 2008, and worked for Goodwill Industries.

She was part of a Special Olympics swim team coached by her parents. She loved piano, trips to the library and bike rides.

“Carmina was innocence personified,” Benita said. “Her language skills were limited, but she could, and did, communicate joy extremely well.

“Her smile would light up her face. She loved milkshakes, and when her parents wanted to motivate her to do something difficult, like learn to put her face underwater or to dive in the pool, the promise of a milkshake would inspire her to try.”

By all accounts, Doug and Elena were devoted to their daughter.

“Their lives centered on her,” Clifford said.

Simple gestures can mean a great deal to someone experiencing sorrow, and I have been blessed by small acts of caring from so many people.

Benita Brown

Neighbors talked of seeing the trio out on walks. They would have breakfast in the park, and Carmina loved going on ATV rides with her dad.

Elena’s choice of community involvement also showed her dedication to her daughter.

The Arc serves disabled individuals and their families. Modern Living Services provides housing, life skills and educational resources to people with developmental disabilities.

Elena helped shepherd through the group’s Kennewick Perry Suites project, which debuted in 2014. It’s an apartment complex for disabled adults.

Doug and Elena also had purchased property for an adult group home, with the idea that it could one day be a place for Carmina to live.

Remembering the Browns

Friends have talked about Doug’s meticulousness and Elena’s go-getter attitude.

Benita remembers her brother as a man who eschewed pretension and pomposity, and Clifford recalls his irreverent sense of humor.

He was an avid runner, who completed marathons around the world. In 2013, he was near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

Elena also was an athlete, competing in tennis. She was good, although her modesty prevented her from bragging about details, Benita said.

Elena also was a devoted Catholic, and Benita said she “worked very hard to get housing for developmentally disabled adults built in the Tri-Cities.”

The day Kennewick Perry Suites opened “was a happy one for her,” Benita said.

Modern Living Services leaders plan a memorial tree and bench at Kennewick Perry Suites in honor of the Browns.

They also hope to make the group family home happen — the one envisioned by Doug and Elena for their daughter.

At a candlelight vigil in December organized by the nonprofit, hundreds turned out to honor the Browns’ memory.

Clifford said his family is trying to remember the good things, the good times.

Benita said she’s grateful for the concern shown by friends and community members.

“Simple gestures can mean a great deal to someone experiencing sorrow, and I have been blessed by small acts of caring from so many people,” she said.

She understands that people are trying to make sense of what happened.

For her, there is no making sense — at least not right now.

Maybe never.

What she hopes people know is this: Doug, Elena and Carmina were loved — by their family, and by many others too.

And this: “They loved each other.”

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald

Help for depression

If you have a loved one exhibiting signs of depression, or if you are struggling yourself, it’s important to reach out for help, said Kyle Sullivan, Benton-Franklin Human Services administrator.

The department’s Crisis Response Unit operates 24-7 and is a good resource, he said. There also are several other mental health agencies in the Tri-Cities, from Lourdes Counseling Center to the behavioral health services department of Tri-Cities Community Health.

People also can go to their primary care physician for help finding resources, he said.

Signs of depression include loss of interest in activities, change in appetite and sleep habits, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

“There is help available,” Sullivan said.

Crisis Response can be reached at 509-783-0500.

Modern Living Services is accepting donations in the name of the Brown family. They’re going to a memorial at Kennewick Perry Suites and toward a group family home project. Online: