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Absence of motive adds an extra layer of grief
Seattle Times staff reporter
For two months, the double murder at a Fremont shipyard haunted Russell Brisendine's family. In the absence of any motive — or suspect — they invented their own scenario.
"We wondered, was there someone coming around killing Brisendines?" said Marshall Brisendine, Russell's cousin. "It was crazy. But you always want to know what was behind the whole thing."
The killer, Kevin Cruz, was eventually caught and convicted. His real motive in the 1999 shooting: a grudge over a small disability claim.
The anxiety and frustration of a killer's unexplained motive once again confounds families, police and the community this week.
Capitol Hill tragedy
Seattle police, at a loss to explain why Kyle Huff killed six people and then himself at a Capitol Hill house party, on Thursday turned to an outside panel for advice and help in finding what has become an elusive motive.
Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske cautioned that a motive may never be known but it is critical to try to determine one, "with the hope that we can learn from this terrible incident," the worst mass killing in Seattle in 23 years.
James Alan Fox, an expert on mass killings, will lead the panel. A professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Fox said there is usually some trigger event — a lost job or relationship — that can be gleaned from a killer's background.
"There are not that many cases that are so perplexing you have no idea," said Fox, author of the upcoming book "The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder."
Police investigating Huff's crime already have examined various possibilities, including mental illness, but have found no answers so far. A toxicology report on potential drugs in Huff's bloodstream may or may not help.
Huff had three guns in his truck Saturday, including an assault rifle; 300 rounds of ammunition; a baseball bat; and a machete. He appeared calm as he opened fire about 7 a.m., and police found no evidence of an altercation before the rampage.
Steve Schwartz, uncle to 22-year-old Justin "Sushi" Schwartz, one of the victims, said he had "more questions than anger at this point."
"The question of why is out there, in terms of bringing closure. Why this house, why this party, why Saturday night, why not three weeks ago?" Schwartz said.
In the absence of fact, theories have sprung up on Web blogs and in news accounts. Some suggest that Huff met at least one of his victims at a rave weeks before the shooting. A Seattle psychologist wondered if Huff, who appeared to have no girlfriend, acted out of sexual frustration.
Experts say mass killers — those who kill four or more in a single spree — are rare and fit a common profile: A history of failure and frustration. Anger. Poor self-esteem. Little social interaction. And a fascination with guns.
Those problems form a slow-boiling pot of rage that can be tipped with even a small social slight, said Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
"The motive may not make sense to you but does to them," he said. "These people are very, very sensitive to humiliation, and they respond with anger."
Motive is not required to convict a person of murder, but the need to understand why is so strong that it can consume grieving families, said Frank Ochberg, chairman emeritus of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the University of Washington.
"They can't do the work of grieving because their reflex thinking goes to the motive and meaning," said Ochberg, who studied the Columbine school shootings in Colorado. "You could argue that it's a human impulse. From the families' perspective, it has to be dealt with."
Silas Cool left few clues to help Elise Crawford understand why.
In November 1998, Cool shot Crawford's fiancÚ, Mark McLaughlin, while he was driving a Metro bus. McLaughlin lost control and the bus catapulted off the Aurora Bridge in Fremont. The fall killed McLaughlin and a passenger and injured 33 others. Cool killed himself and left no motive.
"We'll never know why. That was always my question. I still wonder," Crawford said.
McLaughlin's death is still so painful that Crawford has not gone near Fremont since. She compiled a box of news clippings and TV news coverage but couldn't open the box until last year, when she started writing a book on the incident.
"It's the first thing out of your mouth. You say, 'No.' Then you say, 'Why?' " Crawford said. "It has to be justified in your mind. If there was a justification we could accept, we could find a way to deal with it. But I've learned sometimes you don't get answers."
Jenny Wieland, executive director of the Everett-based Families & Friends of Violent Crime Victims, said she already has heard from the families of some of Huff's victims.
"Murder is so hard to comprehend in the first place, the question of why comes naturally," said Wieland, whose 17-year-old daughter was murdered in 1992. "That's the biggest struggle a family has. Even if the offender lives and goes through prosecution, they still may never find out the motive."
The Brisendine family eventually learned the motive for Russell's murder. They endured an extended trial and watched Cruz be sentenced to life in prison.
Marshall Brisendine planted a yellow rose in his garden for his cousin. And he said he learned a powerful lesson from Cruz.
"I thought about how this guy mistreated everyone, used everyone," Brisendine said. "It made me think about how I live my life, and how I want to be treated. To this day, I live by the golden rule."
Staff writers Sara Jean Green and Christine Clarridge contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company