Jackley Confirms Elements of Murder-Suicide, Arson Involving Westerhuis Family
In a packed room at the Platte Community Center, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley revealed the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Scott Westerhuis and his family.
According to Jackley, the results of the investigation show that Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis died through homicide by wounds from a shotgun. It is also confirmed that an accelerant was used to start the fire that burned the home.
A K-9 provided by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Department of Criminal Investigation trained in detecting accelerants found the origin of the fire. However, because of the catastrophic nature of the fire no definitive samples existed to reveal the exact chemical(s) used.
Officials believe that Scott Westerhuis acted alone in committing the homicides and the arson before he used a shotgun to shoot himself in the head to commit suicide. The coroner’s report also indicated that all six family members died before the house was fully involved by fire as no soot was found in their airways.
Nicole and the two girls were found together near what was the house’s master bedroom contained in a mattress box spring. The fire caused the room to collapse down to the foundation. The two boys were found in separate rooms, in what was left of their beds after that part of the house collapsed. Scott was found in the kitchen with a Charles Daly Field Model 12 gauge shotgun about three feet away from the body.
The timeline provided by the Attorney General shows that Scott Westerhuis was in Takini earlier in the day for work-related purposes. Scott learned of the contract situation with the GEAR UP program during a phone call that began at 6:22 PM on September 16. At 11:30 PM was the final text message sent or received from the Westerhuis family.
On the morning of September 17, a phone call was made from the family’s landline to Nicole’s cell phone at 2:47 AM. Jackley says that the call went to voicemail and lasted 43 seconds. As far as the composition of the voicemail, Jackley was unable to reveal its content. The first 911 call to report the fire came at 5:36 AM with emergency responders arriving on scene at 5:51 AM.
Jackley says 26 witness interviews were conducted in the course of the death investigation. All of the forensic testing and phone records indicate that the Westerhuis family’s demise was the act of one man.
As for other unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy, Jackley says there is more to come. “There is a joint State and Federal financial investigation into the financials of GEAR UP and other programs that has been given the highest priority by the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney.”