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Originally published August 15, 2011 at 10:02 AM | Page modified August 16, 2011 at 8:46 PM

Impending breakup behind First Hill killings of man, young son?

A physician who is being held in the death of his longterm partner and their child last week had planned an amicable separation before they moved to Seattle in July.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dr. Louis Chen and his longtime partner, Eric Cooper, shared an overwhelming desire to have a child.

While Chen was working as an attending physician at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, they began the long process of having a child through surrogacy, according to several friends of the couple.

Their child was not adopted from outside the country, as originally reported, but conceived with Chen's sperm and the egg of an anonymous Taiwanese woman, and carried to term by a surrogate mother from Oregon, the friends said. When the child was born nearly three years ago, he was adopted by Eric Cooper and named Cooper Chen.

"They loved that baby. They adored him," said a friend who had gone to medical school with Chen and is now a physician in Massachusetts. "It was one thing they always agreed on, and it was really very sweet."

Chen, 39, is now accused of killing Cooper, 29, and their son Thursday in the First Hill apartment they shared. A King County District Court judge has determined there is probable cause to hold Chen in custody on investigation of two counts of aggravated murder.

A charging decision is expected Tuesday, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Friends of the couple as well as a relative of Cooper described their relationship and their efforts to start a family in interviews Monday with The Times. All spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The two men met about 12 years ago when Chen, an immigrant from Taiwan, was attending the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and Cooper was a 17-year-old high-school senior in Tinley Park, Ill., friends said.

"He was a gay kid from a small-town high school," the Massachusetts physician said of Cooper. "He felt isolated. ... It was the kind of town where Chicago was the big city, but you didn't go there that often."

Cooper's relative said that Cooper ran away from home to be with Chen. He was "head over heels in love with that man and followed him everywhere," he said.

While Chen was completing his medical degree in Chicago, Cooper was working on his GED diploma, friends said.

Public records show that the men moved in 2000 to California, where Chen did his residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

The couple moved to Seattle, where Chen, changing his specialty, studied physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

But Chen changed his mind again, according to his physician friend, and returned to San Diego to complete his program in internal medicine.

Chen was granted a faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota and served as an attending physician at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, while Cooper earned his bachelor's degree from the university.

It was while the couple were living in Minnesota that they had the boy, their friends said.

Cooper and Chen then moved to Durham, N.C., after Chen was accepted into a prestigious two-year clinical fellowship in endocrinology at Duke University.

According to friends, the two men settled into a neighborhood near the university, where Chen, a "Type A" personality, dived into his work and Cooper stayed at home with the baby.

Friends said that Cooper was "very sweet, very nice and extraordinary" with their son.

Several friends said that while Chen was the dominant personality in the relationship and could be "bossy" to Cooper, there were no signs of the kind of rage that police say was evident at the crime scene.

According to family, Cooper said he was planning to go back to school to become a nurse, but at the same time dabbled in an online flavored-tea company that never took off.

"He was very young and naive," said the Massachusetts physician. Cooper's interests included theater, non-Western cuisine and celebrity gossip, another friend said.

Colleagues of Chen's at Duke had been instructed by Monday not to speak to the media, but on Friday one of Chen's supervisors, Dr. Mark Feinglos, described his work as "outstanding."

Despite many "good years," it was clear that the couple's relationship was ending by the time Chen had accepted a job at Virginia Mason Medical Center and they moved to Seattle in July, the Massachusetts physician said.

"Eric was so young, he just hadn't had the range of experiences that Louis had had," said a friend.

Things, nevertheless, appeared to be going well, friends said.

They had rented the penthouse apartment on First Hill, and Chen was expected to start his new job at Virginia Mason this week.

Chen, who had previously hidden his sexual orientation and the birth of his son from his family, had finally come out to them, according to friends.

"They completely accepted him, and his mother was excited to meet the child," said one friend. "She was coming out to Seattle to help them take care of him."

The couple had planned to separate amicably and intended to live together while they got settled in their new city.

Eventually, according to the Massachusetts physician, Chen was going to rent another residence nearby and the couple planned to co-parent equally.

But something happened in the three weeks since the physician last spoke with Chen. On Thursday, a representative from Virginia Mason went to the couple's apartment, according to an affidavit of probable cause released Monday by King County prosecutors. Chen answered the door nude and covered in blood.

Seattle police were immediately summoned, and they found Cooper dead and the couple's son slain in a bathroom. Chen was slumped over near the front door.

Police asked Chen, "Who stabbed you and your partner?" Chen said, "I did," according to the affidavit.

An affidavit of probable cause outlines the law-enforcement case against the accused.

Chen, who suffered undisclosed injuries, remained hospitalized Monday at Harborview Medical Center, according Donohoe, the spokesman for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Chen's attorney could not be reached on Monday.

"This is just so hard to believe," said one friend. "Almost impossible, really."

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

Times staff reporter Carol Ostrom and news researchers Gene Balk and David Turim contributed.

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