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Fire and Shots in Washougal
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WASHOUGAL — Investigators have recovered two human bodies and four deceased dogs from the ruins of a Washougal home that burned to the ground Wednesday morning as a man fired handguns and rifles to keep emergency responders away, Clark County authorities said.
Authorities have not identified the two deceased adults nor have they revealed a possible motive for the events that led to their deaths inside the home at 3275 F Place. However, family and friends of the homeowners, Steven and Leona Stanbary, indicated on their Facebook pages that the husband and wife, along with Leona Stanbary’s twin sister, perished Wednesday.
Police do not expect to release names of those killed inside the house for at least a few days, said Sgt. Kevin Allais with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities have not determined the gender of the deceased, nor have they determined whether the fire or gunshots killed them, he added.
As investigators piece together Wednesday’s deadly events and what might have preceded them, neighbors grasped for their own answers about how this carnage could happen in their quaint neighborhood. They were also forced to reconsider everything they knew about Steven Stanbary.
Neighbors of the Stanbarys reported seeing flames shoot from their home shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday. Two bystanders who went to the home to see if anyone needed help were met with gunfire. Five bullets struck an arriving Washougal police officer’s car, but no one was hit. Gunfire was heard to continue for 90 minutes or more.
The Washougal officer, whom Allais would not name, received cuts from broken glass and was rescued by a SWAT team’s armored vehicle. The officer was placed on critical incident leave, standard procedure after a shooting, Allais said.
Police and arson investigators returned to the scene at daylight Thursday. In all, 21 detectives were on the scene at 3275 F Place behind the Evergreen Marketplace, Allais said.
Allais confirmed one dog had apparently died from gunfire. The fire destroyed the house and a shop building, he added.
The incident unfolded over many hours before the fire burned out around dusk, allowing firefighters and police to move in. Police expected to remain on scene for several days. F Place is open to local traffic, but police plan to have it barricaded to the general public until the investigation is completed.
Prior to Wednesday, neighbors knew Steven Stanbary as a quiet man who did landscaping and put on the neighborhood’s best fireworks show. They did not know him as a man with a violent history who stayed heavily armed, as Idaho authorities described him following an assault arrest in 1994.
Nancy Schwartzkopf and her husband hired Stanbary to clean their overgrown yard in 2006, shortly after moving into their home on 33rd Street. He planted flower beds and seemed like a “gentle soul,” she said.
Years later, Stanbary did yard work for Schwartzkopf, but something was different about him, she recalled. He had put on weight and was unhappy about his inability to keep it off. She believed Stanbary’s stress related to chronic back pain that negatively affected his landscaping business.
Her opinion of him following Wednesday’s events could not have been more different than her initial impression.
“He was a lost soul just burdened with so many issues,” Schwartzkopf said as she cradled her black and white long-haired Chihuahua, Pepe.
Across the street from Schwartzkopf, Jon Huck recalled Stanbary as the type who “never offered much unless you pried it out of him.” Huck did landscaping work with Stanbary in 2010.
Huck witnessed the fire from beginning to end Wednesday. He watched to see if Stanbary would exit the house. After flames poured through the windows and the roof collapsed, Huck turned his attention elsewhere.
Huck recalled hearing the rapid pop of gunshots during the chaos. Stanbary “has the best fireworks show in Washougal,” Huck noted, but the popping noise’s consistency suggested something more sinister.
While he did not expect Wednesday’s scene, Huck said, in hindsight he thought Stanbary’s silent demeanor made it possible a darkness lurked inside him that would one day manifest itself in a terrible way. Huck, who is unemployed, regretted not offering to help Stanbary with landscaping work. Huck did not know a need existed, however.
“I never knew he had a bad back,” he pointed out, emphasizing his neighbor’s secrecy.
While Huck pondered whether he could have helped Stanbary, his neighbor Neng Moua shuddered at the thought his children had trick-or-treated at the Stanbarys’ house weeks earlier.
Before moving to the neighborhood three years prior, Moua met with many of the neighbors. Most were retired. He figured it was a safe place to raise his children. Wednesday’s events did not change his mind, but they certainly shocked him.
Moua heard a “pop-pop-pop” Wednesday morning before taking his youngest child to Gause Elementary. He thought it was someone doing roof work. His 8-year-old informed him it was gunfire.
Soon enough, authorities were swarming the neighborhood. Moua spent most of the day outside the elementary school waiting for a lockdown to end.
“I didn’t ever think this was something that could happen in this neighborhood,” Moua, 45, said.
To read the story that appeared in Thursday's Columbian, click HERE.