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UPDATED JANUARY 10, 2016 02:45 PM
Doug Brown had at least one episode as a young man, and he told a family member two weeks before his death that he’d been feeling “a heavy weight of depression” recently.
The 64-year-old retired Navy captain was getting help.
Then on Dec. 11, a caregiver arrived at the Brown family’s Panoramic Heights home to find Doug, wife Elena and disabled daughter Carmina all dead from single gunshot wounds.
The family — like the community — is left bewildered and reeling, struggling to understand Doug’s actions.
Doug apparently was taking zolpidem, used to treat insomnia. An empty bottle of the prescription medication — Ambien is a brand name — was found at the house.
Clifford Brown said his brother may also have been taking an anti-depressant, although he doesn’t know that for sure. He wonders if that possible combination could have been a factor in what happened.
HISTORY OF DEPRESSION
Benita Brown, Doug and Clifford’s younger sister, said Doug discussed his depression with her a couple of days after Thanksgiving.
The Tri-City woman was surprised, because during the holiday celebration he’d shared stories of his recent trip to Europe with Elena and Carmina, where they celebrated Elena’s mother’s 95th birthday, and Doug ran two marathons.
“He talked about future plans for projects around their house, about traveling to run more marathons, for a skiing trip to Colorado with an old friend from high school,” Benita wrote in an email to the Herald.
He seemed “engaged with life, full of energy, and anticipating the future” at that time, she said.
He turned in some firearms to police after Crisis Response suggested he remove weapons from his home, Benita said.
Her brother mentioned his earlier depression struggle, but didn’t go into details, she said. It apparently was in his college or early Navy days, and he received help at the time.
Doug didn’t write a note explaining himself — at least not one that’s been found.
Toxicology tests are pending on all three Browns. The results are expected soon.
Elena and Carmina likely were sleeping. They were found in their beds.
AN ACCOMPLISHED PAIR
Like Doug, Elena was a 64-year-old retired Navy officer.
She was born in Madrid, Spain, and moved to the U.S. as a child, graduating from high school in Texas. She attended Seattle University and then joined the Navy, meeting Doug in officer candidate school.
Doug and Elena each received commissions as naval officers in 1975, and they married in 1977.
“Their Navy service took them to many parts of the world, including Panama, Hawaii, the Philippines and Germany,” the family’s obituary said.
Doug left active duty in 1985, but stayed part of the Navy Reserve until his retirement in 2005 as a captain.
Elena retired from active duty in 1995 at the rank of commander.
The family moved to the Tri-Cities in 2004, and Doug and Elena became active in the community.
Doug served as president of the Panoramic Heights Homeowners Association and helped start the Horse Heaven Hills Kiwanis Club.
Elena was a founder of the nonprofit Modern Living Services and served on the board of The Arc of Tri-Cities.
She also worked as a substitute teacher in Kennewick and Pasco.
DEVOTED TO THEIR DAUGHTER
Carmina, 27, who had a chromosomal abnormality and was intellectually disabled, also found her place in the Tri-Cities.
She attended Southridge High School, graduating in 2008, and worked for Goodwill Industries.
She was part of a Special Olympics swim team coached by her parents. She loved piano, trips to the library and bike rides.
“Carmina was innocence personified,” Benita said. “Her language skills were limited, but she could, and did, communicate joy extremely well.
By all accounts, Doug and Elena were devoted to their daughter.
“Their lives centered on her,” Clifford said.
Neighbors talked of seeing the trio out on walks. They would have breakfast in the park, and Carmina loved going on ATV rides with her dad.
Elena’s choice of community involvement also showed her dedication to her daughter.
Elena helped shepherd through the group’s Kennewick Perry Suites project, which debuted in 2014. It’s an apartment complex for disabled adults.
Doug and Elena also had purchased property for an adult group home, with the idea that it could one day be a place for Carmina to live.
REMEMBERING THE BROWNS
Friends have talked about Doug’s meticulousness and Elena’s go-getter attitude.
He was an avid runner, who completed marathons around the world. In 2013, he was near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.
Elena also was an athlete, competing in tennis. She was good, although her modesty prevented her from bragging about details, Benita said.
Elena also was a devoted Catholic, and Benita said she “worked very hard to get housing for developmentally disabled adults built in the Tri-Cities.”
The day Kennewick Perry Suites opened “was a happy one for her,” Benita said.
They also hope to make the group family home happen — the one envisioned by Doug and Elena for their daughter.
At a candlelight vigil in December organized by the nonprofit, hundreds turned out to honor the Browns’ memory.
Clifford said his family is trying to remember the good things, the good times.
Benita said she’s grateful for the concern shown by friends and community members.
She understands that people are trying to make sense of what happened.
For her, there is no making sense — at least not right now. Maybe never.
What she hopes people know is this: Doug, Elena and Carmina were loved — by their family, and by many others too.
Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald