Features

Retired sheriff’s deputy kills four children, himself

SBy Kim Baca The Associated Press
Wednesday March 27, 2002

MERCED — A retired sheriff’s deputy fatally shot his 5-year-old daughter and his three teen-age stepchildren before killing himself Tuesday while his ex-wife was jogging, investigators said. 

Christine McFadden found her 17-year-old daughter lying dead in a hallway near her bedroom when she returned to the house shortly after 7 a.m., said Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Cavallero. 

She rushed next door to call police and then went back to the gray ranch-style home with deputies to find her three other children and her ex-husband lying dead in separate bedrooms. 

“It looks like they had been sleeping,” Cavallero said. 

Former Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy John Hogan, 49, was found in the bed of the master bedroom, holding his dead 5-year-old daughter, Michelle Hogan, in his arms. 

“No word can explain walking through that,” said sheriff’s commander Mark Pazin. “I can’t put it into words, it’s horrifying.” 

Melanie Willis, 17, and Stanley Willis, 15, were students at Golden Valley High School. Stuart Willis, 14, was an eighth grader and Michelle was in preschool at Our Lady of Mercy School. 

Melanie, a junior, was a straight-A student, ranked second in her class of 467 students and was on the ballot Friday to become senior class vice president. Stanley was on the baseball team. 

“They were very positive and engaging kids,” said Golden Valley principal Ralf Swenson. “Melanie had some very high goals for herself. I think she talked about going to Stanford.” 

Students at the school scribbled messages about their grief on a huge banner. Counselors were brought in to discuss the killings. The school is still recovering from a Halloween car accident that killed three students, Swenson said. 

At Valley Animal Hospital, where McFadden works as a veterinarian, a sign on the door said it was closed because of a great tragedy. Behind the locked door, people were consoling each other with hugs. 

Hogan and McFadden married in December 1995. Three years later, she filed for divorce and for a restraining order, claiming he was verbally abusive and used foul language around the children, according to papers filed in Merced Family Law Court. 

“My husband has a very bad temper and when he gets angry he explodes,” McFadden wrote in her application for a restraining order in June 1998, three months after filing for divorce. 

The divorce was finalized last year. 

Hogan retired as a deputy in 1993 for undisclosed medical reasons after 10 years on the force, said Terrance Helm of the Santa Clara sheriff’s department. 

Hogan apparently got into his ex-wife’s house after she and a neighbor went jogging at 6 a.m. 

“Nobody could ever foresee something like this,” Pazin said. 

Merced deputies have been shaken by grisly crime scenes in recent years. 

In the summer of 2000, a Delhi teen-ager beheaded his mother and was found sitting naked in her blood, reading the Bible. 

Three weeks earlier, an intruder with a pitchfork broke into a rural farm house and stabbed three children, killing a boy and girl and injuring one of their older sisters. The attacker was gunned down as he lunged at sheriff’s deputies. 

The shooting Tuesday took place in a neighborhood of large homes on spacious, manicured lawns. 

Word of the killings spread quickly, and students at Our Lady of Mercy School, a nearby Roman Catholic elementary school that all the children had attended, were notified after arriving at school. 

At a time usually devoted to Holy Week activities, pupils prayed for the slain children during a special Mass. 

Principal Brenda Feehan showed reporters a 1998 picture of Melanie, with braces on her teeth and her brown hair in curls. 

“They were bright and full of hope and positive, with terrific senses of humor,” Feehan said. “It doesn’t make sense.”