Washougal police chief takes stock of violence

We were fortunate, he says; identities of three bodies confirmed

By John Branton and Paul Suarez

Published:

 
photoSteve Stanbary

Update

Previously: Authorities responded to a house fire and shooting Dec. 7 at 3275 F Place in Washougal.

What’s new: Officials confirmed the remains found in the rubble of the destroyed house were those of Steven Stanbary, his wife, Leona Bolton-Stanbary, and her twin sister Mona Daugherty. The women died of gunshot wounds before the house was burned, officials said.

What’s next: The investigation continues.

With the adrenaline starting to settle down in Washougal — after a shocking fire, hundreds of bullets fired and a wife and her sister slain — Police Chief Ron Mitchell had one word on Monday to describe his feelings: “Tired.”

You can imagine.

Mitchell almost lost one of his 17 officers, Dan McPherson, a five-year veteran in the city of 14,210, after what was first reported as a house fire at 3275 F Place.

McPherson was the first officer to arrive, with a couple more behind him, to see if anyone inside the home needed help.

McPherson had no clue that he was a sitting duck. The owner of the home, Steven Stanbary, 47, was aiming a gun at him.

At least four bullets hit McPherson’s patrol car, one that ripped through his driver-side window and exited through the front passenger-side window.

Unscathed except for flying glass cuts on one arm, McPherson drove two houses to the east and stopped.

“He got out of his vehicle and took cover, and continued to give information as to what was going on to (911) dispatch,” Mitchell said.

As the fire raged, police say Stanbary fired hundreds of bullets, apparently to keep firefighters away.

Except for McPherson, Mitchell said, “We don’t know what he was shooting at.”

Although the gunman could have shot up nearby homes, no neighbors had reported anyone being hit, or even that their homes were hit, as of Monday afternoon, Mitchell said.

Also Monday, Mitchell revealed the identities of three bodies recovered from the charred remains of the home in the days since the Dec. 7 rampage.

Investigators with the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office and Dr. Kathy Taylor of the King County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded the remains are Leona Bolton-Stanbary, her twin sister Mona Daugherty and Steven Stanbary.

The two women died of gunshot wounds before the home was burned to the ground, officials determined.

The manner of the case has been ruled a murder-suicide, but the “cause of death for Steven Stanbary has yet to be determined,” Mitchell said.

As for Officer McPherson, he remained on routine critical incident leave Monday and may return to work later this week, Mitchell said.

The officer needs some “time and space,” Mitchell said. “He just wants some time with his family.”

Oddly, Mitchell said, his officers had not had any serious problems with Stanbary previously, and had no indication he was about to explode.

“He’s kind of been under the radar,” Mitchell said.

After the fire was reported about 8 a.m., Washougal officers took positions around the home and called in off-duty officers to deal with other 911 calls in the city.

With Stanbary firing “as fast as he could pull the trigger,” as one officer said, and snapping multiple loaded ammo magazines into his guns, it was far too unsafe for firefighters to douse the flames.

That would continue all day until, shortly after 6 p.m., firefighters were allowed close to stream water on the remains of the ravaged house.

As firefighters had waited for the chance to stop the flames, word got out of what was unfolding in Washougal and officers from other cities came to help.

SWAT officers and armored vehicles were called to the scene. Some SWAT officers surrounded and watched the house to make sure Stanbary didn’t escape into the community with his many guns. They later said they were confident he remained in his house.

Major crime detectives with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department arrived to work as a regional team.

On Monday, officials met with those agencies in Washougal to review the case. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms also took part.

Still unknown for certain is Stanbary’s motive.

He had been scheduled to turn himself in to police for alleged multiple sex crimes under investigation by officials with the Children’s Justice Center.

In light of the violence, “We’re all very fortunate,” Mitchell said.

Law officers fired no gunshots in the complex daylong incident, Mitchell said.

“All the law-enforcement agencies came together great,” he said. “Every one was just wonderful to work with.”

“The Washougal Police Department would like to publicly thank all of the agencies that assisted and continue to assist in this investigation,” Mitchell said Monday in a bulletin. “We would also like to thank the friends, neighbors and residents who assisted in the investigation.”

Although the ashes have cooled, and the bodies have been examined, the case remains under active investigation.

Anyone with information about the three people involved is asked to call Washougal police at 360-835-8701. Or email Sgt. Allen Cook at acook@ci.washougal.wa.us.