OAK HARBOR — An Ottawa County man called 9-1-1 just after midnight Saturday and told authorities that he shot his wife and three children in their Salem Township home and that he was getting ready to kill himself.
When authorities later forced their way into the home at 964 Leutz Rd., they discovered Alan Atwater, 31, his wife, Dawn Atwater, 30, and three children — daughter Ashley, 4, and sons Isaac, 2, and Brady, 1 — all dead of gunshot wounds, Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said during a news conference Saturday in Port Clinton.
Authorities described the deaths as an "unexplainable incident," noting there were no known domestic or financial problems facing Mr. Atwater or the family.
"Obviously this is a tragedy," said sheriff's Capt. Olen Martin. "Three young, innocent lives taken. And Mrs. Atwater."
The bodies all were found upstairs in the same room, with Brady's body in a bed. Authorities said they are unaware of any notes being left at the scene.
After receiving the 9-1-1 call at 12:11 a.m., a sheriff's special response and command team responded to the family home and attempted to contact Mr. Atwater from outside the dwelling. They used a loud speaker and made cell phone calls without response.
They forced the front door open at 2:52 a.m., at which time the bodies were discovered.
"It was a situation where it was extremely critical," Sheriff Bratton said on why deputies didn't enter the home right away.
While they received the 911 call, they didn't know whether it could be an ambush or hostage-type situation without using practical procedures and monitoring the home, the sheriff said.
Mr. Atwater's voice was steady and calm when he called the emergency line.
"There has been a terrible accident at my house, my wife and three children are dead," Mr. Atwater told a communications deputy who received his 9-1-1 call.
When asked what had happened to them, Mr. Atwater replied "gunshot wound" and said, "I'm getting ready to kill myself right now."
"Did you kill them?" the dispatcher asked; Mr. Atwater said, "Yes." The deputy asked what had happened but Mr. Atwater hung up the phone.
Joan Atwater, grandmother to Mr. Atwater, lives in a neighboring home on the corner of Leutz and Salem-Carroll roads. She helped authorities by calling her grandson's cell phone before they gained entry.
She said a fourth child, 12-year-old Mandie, Mr. Atwater's daughter and Dawn's stepdaughter, was not home at the time.
The couple were married on Nov. 4, 2005, according to marriage license records. Their birth records state they both were born in Oregon.
The family lived in a two-story white farm house with a big yard and swing set, not far from the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station where Mr. Atwater was employed in the maintenance department. Mrs. Atwater was a stay-at-home mother.
The sheriff's department said he had no criminal record and that it wasn't aware of any disputes between the couple.
This is the second time within six months that the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office has dealt with the killings of multiple family members.
William J. Liske, 25, is awaiting trial on charges of aggravated murder stemming from the Oct. 31, 2010, deaths of his father, stepmother, and stepbrother in their home on State Rt. 2 just east of the Lucas-Ottawa County line.
William E. Liske, Jr., 53, and wife Susan Liske, 46, were found with gunshot wounds to the head in their bedroom. Her son Derek Griffin, 23, had been beaten to death in his upstairs bedroom.
Mr. Liske pleaded not guilty to all charges, for which he faces the death penalty if convicted.