A U.S. Army veteran is believed to have killed his wife and two young children before setting their Kentucky home ablaze and taking his own life, authorities said.
The man, identified by family as Brad Hettinger, shot and killed his 32-year-old wife, Billie, and their 5-year-old son Colin and 4-year-old daughter Courtney in their Jeffersontown home on Sunday, police told reporters.
“It’s always difficult, anytime children are involved, it’s always difficult,” Lt. Todd Kessinger with the Louisville Metro Police Department said at a press conference. “It’s a tough case.”
The father then set fire to the home’s two floors before about 2:30 p.m. before fatally shooting himself, officials said.
“We got originally dispatched on a fire alarm at this house,” Jeffersontown Fire Chief Sean Dreisbach told reporters. “When we have multiple fires on multiple floors, we can pretty much figure it’s going to be an arson investigation.”
All four family members died of gunshot wounds to the head, Deputy Coroner Eddie Robinson said, KFVS 12 reported.
The children were found in their beds on the second floor.
Billie Hettinger, who was also shot in the chest, was found in the basement, according to the station.
It was not immediately clear when led Hettinger, 33, to kill his wife and children.
According to his LinkedIn page, Hettinger served in the U.S. Army for 12 years, rising to the rank of company commander as an apache attack helicopter pilot.
He also received a Bronze Star in 2011, according to his obituary.
It was not clear what led Brad Hettinger to kill his family and take his own life. (Facebook)
Loved ones took to social media to express their grief at the unexpected tragedy.
“Sweet Billie… May your sweet heart and fun loving personality legend live on,” a donor wrote on a GoFundMe page created to offset burial costs about the mother of two, who worked as a nurse.
“BJ was an amazing person, friend to all and Mom,” a friend wrote on Facebook.
“I had the privilege of having both of these sweet babies in my class … Flashes of their sweet faces, seeing their smiles, remembering their 1st table food, steps, water play with friends, painting and tasting the paint(cause that is what we do). Please pray for the family and friends of Billie, Collin and Courtney. They will be greatly missed,” another mourner posted on Facebook.
Colin and Courtney attended St. Michael Catholic School, where the family attended church, the Archdiocese of Louisville said in a statement.
“On behalf of the parish and school community of St. Michael, as well as all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Hettinger and Gayheart families on their tragic loss… St. Michael Parish is focusing on prayer and outreach to the family and to the parish and school,” the statement said.
“We ask all to join us in prayers for the Hettinger and Gayheart families and for the repose of the souls of Brad, Billie, Colin, and Courtney.”
Neighbors held a vigil on Monday to remember the family, leaving flowers and stuffed animals on their home’s doorstep.
Resident Eddie Smith told reporters: “You just wonder, what you could have done differently. What you could have done to help, what you could have done to prevent things."