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3 dead, 2 wounded in shooting spree

Island County Coroner Robert Bishop moves one of the victims of Thursday’s shooting in Freeland. - Jessie Stensland
Island County Coroner Robert Bishop moves one of the victims of Thursday’s shooting in Freeland.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland

Apparently intent on killing an entire family, a 27-year-old Clinton man gunned down four people, killing two of them, before turning the shotgun on himself early Thursday morning in Freeland.

At about 1:30 a.m., the sounds of screaming and several shotgun blasts awoke the residents of Vesel Court. On the street that winds through the quiet, rural neighborhood, Preston Dean “Hugh” Douglas shotgunned and killed his fiance, 30-year-old Holly M. Swartz, and Swartz’s mother, 55-year-old Margie Monnett.

Then, with witnesses watching from their homes, Douglas turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

According to Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley, the killings happened less than a day after Swartz had accused Douglas of molesting her 6-year-old daughter. On Wednesday, Hawley said, Swartz and her daughter moved out of the Wilson Place, Clinton apartment she shared with Douglas and took their belongings to her mother’s house at 5552 Vesel Court.

She had started the process of filing a restraining order against Douglas just hours before the murder.

During a confrontation that started when Douglas arrived on foot at the house with a 12-gauge shotgun, two other people living in the house were also shot.

Bruce Monnett, Swartz’s 22-year-old brother, and his girlfriend, Sierra Klug, 18, survived serious gunshot wounds and were airlifted to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where they admitted in critical condition. A spokesperson for the hospital said Klug’s condition was expected to improve after surgery Thursday, while Monnett was in stable condition by day’s end.

Swartz’s daughter was also at home at the time of the shootings. She ran out of the house and alerted a neighbor down the street. That neighbor called 911.

Hawley said the scene was something a young child should not see.

“This is an incredibly horrific situation for a 6-year-old,” he said during a Thursday morning press conference with members of television and print media.

Sheriff’s Deputy John Sawyers was the first officer at the crime scene. Although his response was immediate, Sheriff Hawley said, Douglas, Swartz and Monnett were already dead.

Slaughter was carefully planned

It took until late Thursday for the sheriff’s office to come up with a scenario for what happened in the neighborhood that night.

Sheriff Hawley said Douglas drove his Dodge van to within about two blocks of Monnett’s residence shortly before 2 a.m., parked on Cameron Road, then walked to the house with a military-style shotgun in hand. With a full box of ammunition, Douglas had come armed to kill the entire family, according to Hawley. Investigators found 16 shotgun shells at the scene, more than a dozen of which had been fired.

“It appears on the facts we have he had one thing on his mind and that was to kill people,” Hawley said.

Based on witnesses’ reports, investigators learned that Douglas arrived at the Monnett house, entered the back door and had a confrontation with Bruce Monnett in the kitchen area. Douglas shot Monnett in the abdomen as he entered the home.

As Monnett ran to a neighbor’s house, Douglas started walking through the home. Klug, who was in the house, tried to run for the garage door. Douglas shot her in the leg and abdomen, then shot her in the arm at close range.

As all this happened, Swartz’s daughter moved from her hiding place behind a freezer in the garage and ran up the street to a neighbor’s house, where Swartz was at the time. Douglas went after them, yelling at them to come outside.

Investigators are not certain about the timeline of the next few events. At some point, Marjorie Monnett confronted Douglas in the street. He dropped her to the pavement with a shot to her hip area, then killed her with two blasts to the head.

Swartz also came out on the street. As she neared Douglas where he was standing next to a pickup truck, Douglas shot her once in the upper leg area and two times in the head, killing her. Then, he put the gun to his own forehead and pulled the trigger.

Neighbors in Vesel Court witnessed most of these events, including Douglas’ suicide, according to Sheriff Hawley.

Deputy John Sawyers was the first officer at the bloody scene. He arrived less than two minutes after the first 911 dispatch was issued by Island County Communications. But the shooting was all over by the time he got there.

No history of violence

Thursday’s murders are the first in unincorporated Island County since 1997, and, said Sheriff Hawley, are unusual in the context of past domestic killings. He said there was no history of domestic violence between Douglas and Swartz. Because of this lack of a violent history, personnel at the sheriff’s office did not have Swartz and her daughter under any sort of heightened protection. Hawley said agency detectives were investigating her allegations; she had also been referred to a domestic violence victim’s assistance program.

The murders, he said, do not fit the circumstances, based on the past experience of county law enforcement.

“We were doing everything in the right way dealing with this,” Hawley told reporters Thursday.

Investigators stayed at the scene of the crime most of Thursday. The bodies of the victims were removed around 7:30 a.m. and sent to the Island County Coroner’s Office for examination.

Assisting at the scene were Fire District 3 volunteers and paramedics, who treated the two gunshot victims before they were airlifted to Seattle. The Langley Police Department also assisted in securing the crime scene.

Volunteers and professionals involved in the investigation, medical response and cleanup Thursday went through a debriefing Thursday night.

Island County Cororner Robert Bishop started autopsies on the bodies of the victims Friday. No preliminary results from his investigation were available.

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