South Dakota authorities say four children and their mother found dead in a house fire last week are homicide victims. Attorney General Marty Jackley says preliminary autopsy results show Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor, and Michael Westerhuis died of shotgun wounds.
Officials say the sixth person dead is husband and father Scott Westerhuis. He also died of a shotgun wound, and authorities suspect suicide.
On September 17th flames engulfed a home just south of Platte, South Dakota. After first responders put out the fire, officials found a family of six dead.
“Certainly the condition of the house when law enforcement arrived has built in some additional challenges. There were some delays to make sure that officers were safe with respect to the gathering of evidence,” Jackley says. “Some of the evidence has been destroyed, but we also have technology and techniques. We have a dog as part of the DCI that deals with accelerants. We have additional techniques and tools that were able to assist in the ultimate investigation and the determination of both the cause and manner of death.
Initial results indicate a father killed his wife and four children before shooting himself. Jackley says authorities plan to release more information as the investigation continues.
He says officials believe this is an isolated incident and that the public is not in danger.
“At this point what I can indicate is certainly the scene has been secured. We have the preliminary autopsy results. We have taken some items from the scene that are currently going through forensic testing process,” Jackley says. “And, as part of a thorough investigation, we’re also looking at a wide variety of financial documents so that we can ultimately reach some further conclusions potentially about the why this has happened.”
Jackley says he can’t say whether financial documents are related to the family personally or if they are connected to the organization where both parents worked.
Scott Westerhuis was business manager at Mid Central Education Cooperative.
Earlier this year, audits indicate hundreds of thousands in grant funding were allegedly administered improperly.