Father who killed family threatened suicide — (The Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal

Associated Press

28 May 1994

WILLITS, Calif.   A father who used an ax to kill his wife and three children before fatally shooting himself had been despondent and threatened to commit suicide three months ago but was talked out of it.

There were other signs that William Arthur “Bruce” Sweazey’s mind was troubled, according to friends and acquaintances. He was said to be paranoid and hearing voices in the months prior to the killings, the second mass-murder suicide in nine months in this Mendocino County town of 5,000.

Phil Shuster, Sweazey’s supervisor at Shuster Trucking Co., described his 33-year-old employee as reliable and hard-working. But, he said, Sweazey had grown increasingly agitated during the last year.

“He seemed disturbed and was making odd comments, so I had a few talks with him,” Shuster said. “We didn’t get into a lot of details, but I tried to help him. I thought he had worked things out.”

Barbara Ann Sweazey, 32, had been fearful of her husband’s delusions and threatened to leave him if he did not seek counseling, said her employer, Russ Bodell.

“Bruce had been talking about hearing voices,” said Bodell, who owns two local stores. “He told her voices were telling him someone was going to kill her and her kids and she had better lock the door.”

Police Chief Robert Foster on Friday confirmed that Sweazey barricaded himself in a storage shed March 1 at his home and threatened to kill himself. His wife calmed him down and police left without making any arrest.

The five bodies were found Thursday morning inside the family’s yellow three-bedroom home, surrounded by a white picket fence in this town about 125 miles north of San Francisco.

Using an ax, he killed Barbara Sweazey, sons Joshua Bruce, 12, Jacob Robert, 9, and the couple’s 11-month-old baby, Zechariah Heath, officials said. Foster said it appeared some of the victims had been caught off guard, possibly while in bed.

The chief also said investigators were awaiting the results of autopsies on the victims, a process expected to take weeks. He declined to discuss other details of the case.

Sweazey, whose father reportedly also committed suicide when his son was a boy, was recently prescribed the antidepressant drug Prozac, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Friday.

Meanwhile, counselors were on hand at Blosser Lane Elementary school where both the older boys attended classes. Students at the school already had been dealing with the death last weekend of a third-grader killed when his bicycle was struck by a car.

“They don’t understand,” school psychologist Rod Gabrielson said.

The Sweazey family deaths follow a similar multiple killing last August. In that case, 21-year-old Ronald Trevor Harden fatally shot his parents, a sister and her 18-month-old child and then took his own life.

Police discovered the latest killings after Sweazey’s mother, former Mayor Wilma Sweazey, told officers she had not seen any family members for two days and no one answered the door.