Wrangell teacher William Gablehouse shot his ex-girlfriend, her daughter and her niece early Monday before turning the gun on himself, Wrangell police said Tuesday.
Police waited until they heard from the state medical examiner before confirming what most in the town had been thinking since Monday - that Gablehouse went on a rampage at the home of his former girlfriend, Sheryl Roberta Nelson.
Wrangell Police Chief Tom Clemons said there was no clear motive for the attack. And he said there had been no obvious warning signs that the relationship would turn violent.
Residents were stunned by the deaths of Nelson, 43, her daughter Shandelle Marie Nelson, 18, and niece Adrienne Nore, 23, as well as Gablehouse, 48.
The family members were found dead in Nelson's Reid Street home along with Gablehouse, who did not live there.
Shandelle Nelson was a student at Wrangell High School, where Gablehouse was a physical education and health teacher.
Gablehouse and Sheryl Nelson ended their relationship perhaps a month ago, Police Chief Clemons said.
There was no sign of forced entry, no note left at the scene and no reports of domestic violence before the attack around 3:55 a.m. Monday, Clemons said.
"At this time, I don't have any information that a call was ever made to us that there were any problems," Clemons said.
Police responded to the home after someone reported hearing gunshots. The bodies of Sheryl Nelson, Nore and Gablehouse were found in the entryway to the living and dining rooms, Clemons said. Shandelle Nelson's body was in the bathroom.
The medical examiner concluded they all died of wounds from a .357-caliber revolver. Wrangell police waited until the autopsies were completed Tuesday before identifying Gablehouse as the shooter.
Because the victims had family in Wrangell, and because Gablehouse was a former coach, most in the community were acquainted with at least one of them.
"I don't think there's anyone in town that isn't affected," said Robert Prunella, a lifelong resident of Wrangell and the city manager. "I think a lot of people are still stunned."
Prunella said a number of stories are circulating through town about what led up to the shootings. "But the real story I don't think is out yet."
Grieving students at Wrangell High School wrote messages on red helium balloons before releasing them into the air during a school assembly that focused on helping students cope with the loss of their friend.
The school planned to return to its regular schedule today, but it will be some time before things are normal, said Wrangell School Superintendent Susan Sciabbarrasi.
"In a small town, everyone is almost like siblings," she said. "Because everybody grieves differently, it's going to be a tough week."
Most residents contacted by the news media were hesitant to be quoted about the shooting. But privately, some wondered if any warning signs foretold the violence. Nelson had reported no domestic disturbances, according to the police chief.
But Wrangell District Court records show Gablehouse had been charged with a misdemeanor four years ago after violating a domestic violence protection order filed by his ex-wife. Brenda Gablehouse had been granted a protective order in June 1998 as the two were going through a divorce.
Brenda Gablehouse told police her husband was waiting for her in a parking lot - in violation of the order - and made threatening comments. She returned home later that night and found her door kicked in. A witness said Gablehouse had been parked in her driveway.
Gablehouse pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of violating the order and was sentenced to one year of probation and a $200 fine. A second count was dismissed, court records show.
Brenda Gablehouse has since left Wrangell and could not be located for comment.
Police Chief Clemons said the investigation was continuing and that all seven officers in his department were on the case. The community has received an outpouring of support from people outside Wrangell, he said, including an offer from the Petersburg police to assist in patrolling the town while the investigation is underway.
"There's a sadness in the community, but they are coping with the situation. They are taking care of each other and doing a magnificent job of it," Clemons said.