Wrangell residents are in shock and mourning after police released the names of four people found shot to death in a downtown Wrangell home early Monday. Police said they are investigating the shootings - the deadliest in Southeast in 20 years - as a murder-suicide case.
The bodies of William Paul Gablehouse, 48, Sheryl Roberta Nelson, 43, Shandelle Marie Nelson, 18, and Adrienne Shalon Nore, 23, were discovered around 3:55 a.m. at Sheryl Nelson's home at 407 Reid St. in downtown Wrangell. The town of 2,400 people is about 155 miles south of Juneau and 89 miles northwest of Ketchikan.
Three of the bodies were found in the threshold of the home's living room and dining room, police said. One body was found in the bathroom.
Gablehouse was the estranged boyfriend of Sheryl Nelson, mother of Shandelle Nelson, police said. Nore was Sheryl Nelson's niece. Nore was the mother of two young children, several Wrangell residents said. Police said they had no information about children being in the house at the time of the shootings.
"We're in so much shock we don't even know what to do or think," said a Wrangell resident who lives a few blocks away from the site of the shooting and asked to remain anonymous.
"But it makes you think did we miss something somewhere? Did we fail as a community to see someone so much in pain and crying out for help? Did we walk right by it when we saw our people smiling everyday? Was there really something else underneath it that we didn't see? I guess it just goes to show you that what you see isn't always all that's there," she said.
Wrangell Police Chief Tom Clemons said Gablehouse did not live in the home. He said it is not clear whether Nore was living in the house at the time of the shooting or just staying the night.
Gablehouse was a faculty member at Wrangell High School and the former assistant basketball coach, The Associated Press reported. Shandelle Nelson was a senior at the school.
"Mr. Gablehouse was my P.E. teacher and also theirs (Nore and Shandelle Nelson)," said resident Michele Gillen. "How could somebody do something so cold-hearted to three innocent people? I knew Adrienne and her cousin Shandelle. They were so young. It just isn't right. But I guess life isn't right either."
Acting Wrangell School District Superintendent Monty Buness did not return calls from the Empire. Clemons said the school district is waiting for its superintendent, who was out of town during the murders, to return.
Police declined comment on who called them, but said the caller heard shots. Police also declined to comment on possible motives for the crime until medical examiners look at the bodies. Alaska State Troopers have flown the bodies to Anchorage for autopsies, Clemons said. The examiner's report is expected in the next few days.
Clemons further declined to comment on whether a weapon was found in the residence.
"We have collected lots of evidence and while the investigation is ongoing, we won't release what individual pieces of that evidence are," said Clemons. "We will release as much as we can as this investigation continues."
According to a statement broadcast on KSTK radio in Wrangell, grief counselors and church clergy assembled at Wrangell High School on Monday to offer support to community members. The school was supposed to be closed to students due to teacher training.
Wrangell resident Lonnie Mitchell said despite everyone's shock the community was pulling together and "just trying to talk it out."
Clemons said, "Everybody's sad here, and going through a grieving process. We all feel a tremendous loss. But Wrangell is a surviving community and the community will get through this thing."
Wrangell clergy and lawmakers were unavailable for comment.
According to Juneau District Attorney Rick Svobodny, the shooting is the deadliest in Southeast since 1982.
In that year, eight people were killed on board the fishing boat Investor at or near the Craig harbor on Prince of Wales Island. The boat was taken to a nearby cove and set on fire.
Bellingham, Wash., fisherman John Kenneth Peel was tried twice for the killings. The first trial, in Ketchikan, ended in a hung jury. The second trial, in 1988 in Juneau, resulted in acquittal.
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.