Original article no longer available
Great Falls Tribune
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
By KIM SKORNOGOSKI, Tribune Staff Writer
An Augusta ranch wife was arrested and charged with killing her two youngest children while they slept early Monday morning. Two sons and her husband sleeping nearby never were threatened or harmed, Lewis and Clark Undersheriff Cheryl Liedle said.
Jeanette Swanson, 46, was arrested quietly in her home on Elk Creek Road six miles southwest of Augusta around 6 a.m. Monday, after she called 9-1-1.
She told sheriff’s investigators that she shot her 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, court documents said.
She was charged with two counts of deliberate homicide Monday and appeared before Justice of the Peace Wally Jewell via closed circuit video from the Lewis and Clark County jail. She is being held without bail pending a District Court hearing and is under a suicide watch, officials said. Investigators and prosecutors are searching for clues to what led to the shooting.
Swanson’s family took her to Benefis Healthcare last week, looking for treatment for her depression and chronic tiredness. According to her mother, Marjorie Linzbach of Great Falls, Swanson was prescribed sleeping pills and a mild anti-depressant and sent home.
The children were dead in their beds in separate rooms when officers and an Augusta ambulance crew arrived at 5:42 a.m. Her husband, Gene Swanson, and their two oldest children, sons 16 and 20, woke up to the sound of gunshots. Gene Swanson was sleeping in a camp trailer outside the home.
Liedle said she doesn’t know how the other two sons, asleep in their rooms, escaped injury.
The oldest son told the Lewis and Clark County sheriff’s officials that his mother had a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, according to an affidavit filed in Helena.
Swanson didn’t have the gun when officers arrived, but it was recovered at the scene, Lewis and Clark Deputy County Attorney Carolyn Clemens said.
The children’s bodies were taken to the State Crime Lab in Missoula for an autopsy.
Little other information was released Monday as investigators tried to piece together what happened.
Jeanette Swanson’s mother offered some clues, describing the changes she’d seen in her normally warm and social daughter. “I noticed that she was tired, very passive and quiet,” she said Monday evening. “She was very, very meek. You couldn’t help but notice that something was wrong.”
Jeanette Swanson had been seen by a nearby doctor within the last few weeks, and told her family that all reports indicated she was all right. Not satisfied, Linzbach joined her daughter and son-in-law at a recent doctor visit in Great Falls. They hoped Jeanette Swanson would get a complete examination, fearing she had a deeper health problem or a chemical imbalance.
After talking to her, Great Falls doctors prescribed sleeping pills and the anti-depressant Paxil, which takes weeks to become effective, Linzbach said.
“She should have been hospitalized and not allowed to go home,” she said. “She was willing to go for help. She was just very, very tired.”
Swanson has ranched in the area with her husband for more than 15 years, prosecutors said. She raised her four children and was responsible for cleaning and cooking.
Linzbach said her daughter was dedicated to children, spending every minute of the day with them, as she was responsible for their homeschooling.
Recently, her daughter’s behavior began to change dramatically.
“It just all of a sudden seemed like she couldn’t do it anymore,” Linzbach said. “She cared about her children’s welfare. She was around them all the time.
“This is a triple tragedy, for her, for those children and for those who are still living.”
Undersheriff Liedle said the older boys remained in Augusta with their father, where they had support from families and local counselors.