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Father kills 4 kids, then himself

He apparently shot the children as they slept after a dispute with his wife.

By Merrill Balassone -- Modesto Bee

Published 12:01 am PDT Wednesday, July 5, 2006

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Gustine Police Chief Don Hutchins, at a news conference Tuesday, provides details of an apparent murder-sucide that left four children, ages 5 to 12, and their father dead after the man and his wife had a quarrel. Modesto Bee/Bart Ah You

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GUSTINE -- A man killed his four sleeping children with a hunting rifle early Tuesday morning before turning the weapon on himself, police said.

Police identified the dead as Trevor Branscum, 37, Aubrie Branscum, 12, Jacob Branscum, 10, and 5-year-old twins Taylor and Alyssa Branscum.

Trevor Branscum had just returned home with his wife, Amanda Trimble, after the two had argued at a nearby market, police said.

Trimble, 33, left with a friend and didn't return for about an hour. When she came home, she entered the house, saw her husband lying dead, ran out and collapsed on the street.

Her friend then called police at 1:30 a.m.

When officers entered the four-bedroom, tri-level house on the west side of town, they found Trevor Branscum lying in a pool of blood on top of the suspected murder weapon.

Police said his body was found near a stairway next to the kitchen/nook. Twins Alyssa and Taylor were found nearby in the family room. Jacob was found in the bedroom next to the family room. Aubrie was found on the top level in the master bedroom.

All the children apparently died from gunshots to the head, according to Mayor Jim Bonta. Police Chief Don Hutchins said two of the children were shot at "very close range."

Police told the mayor that Branscum had to reload the rifle before each shot.

With a population of about 5,200, Gustine is located about 90 miles northwest of Fresno.

A family member, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday night that Trimble is staying with her parents near Sacramento as she tries to cope with the immense loss.

She described Trimble as a "wonderful mother" and homemaker who had recently begun working a night shift after the children were put to bed.

"Four little lives gone, it's such a shock," she said. "(Trevor Branscum) seemed like such a wonderful father. He adored his children, but I think he did this to punish Amanda."

Police said the evidence points to a murder-suicide, but they will continue investigating. They said Trimble is not a suspect. Police interviewed her briefly before she "went into shock."

One of the last people believed to have seen Branscum alive was the owner of Borrelli's Market. A little over an hour before the bodies were discovered, Trimble entered the store to buy some things and was followed inside by Branscum.

The couple was seen arguing there just after midnight, police said.

The store owner, whom police have not identified, called to request an escort to his home after he told police he was concerned after witnessing Branscum and Trimble argue.

Trimble tried to drive out of the parking lot without Branscum, but he dove into their silver van through the passenger window, police said.

Officers searched the area for the couple and their van but were unable to find them. They then responded to the call to the house and discovered the grisly scene.

The family member said she did not know what the two had been arguing about.

Hutchins said police will be reviewing the store's surveillance footage to uncover more information about what may have instigated the fight.

By many accounts, including that of their neighbors, Trimble and Branscum's marriage had seemed peaceful. They were married on Valentine's Day in 2003 and had lived in Gustine for three years since moving from Patterson and Walnut Grove, Hutchins said.

"They seemed to be a happy couple until last night," said Hutchins, noting that neighbors saw the father and children lighting off fireworks just hours before the murders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The shooting of four children by their father happened in their home, located in a newer development in Gustine. The apparent murder-suicide took place at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Police said the man reloaded his rifle each time after shooting his children one by one. Modesto Bee/Bart Ah You


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