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Release of Further Information on the Westerhuis Fire and Death Investigation

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  Tuesday, January 05, 2016
CONTACT:  Sara Rabern (605) 773-3215   


Release of Further Information on the Westerhuis Fire and Death Investigation


PIERRE, S.D. - Attorney General Marty Jackley is releasing the following additional information arising from the Westerhuis fire and death investigation. 
“Forensic evidence and the totality of the investigation continues to confirm that Scott Westerhuis was responsible for the death of his family, before setting fire to his home and taking his own life,” said Marty Jackley.  “I also want to re-assure the public that the joint state and federal criminal investigation into the financial circumstances surrounding the Gear-Up and related programs remains an ongoing priority. Any information from the public that may assist law enforcement with our financial review would be greatly appreciated,” said Jackley. 
On September 17th, 2015, a catastrophic house fire occurred at the Westerhuis residence located at 36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.  On September 22nd, 2015, preliminary autopsy reports were released indicating that the cause and manner of death for Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis were homicide by shotgun wounds, and the cause of death for Scott Westerhuis was shotgun wound with manner of death as suspected suicide based on investigation findings. 

On November 3rd, 2015, Attorney General Jackley joined state, local and federal law enforcement and first responders at a press conference in Platte and released the final fire and death investigation results confirming that the totality of circumstances indicated that Scott Westerhuis was responsible for the death of his family. It was further released that a joint state and federal investigation into the financial circumstances surrounding the Gear-Up Program remained an ongoing priority.

During and since the press conference, further questions have been asked regarding the following three general areas:

 I) A white pickup traveling through Platte on the morning of September 17th, 2015;
 II) The 2:57 a.m. call from the Westerhuis landline to Nicole Westerhuis’ cell phone; and
 III) Safety or lock deposit boxes.

As demonstrated by the further release of this information, none of these items provide evidence that anyone other than Scott Westerhuis was responsible for the tragic loss of his family.  
 
I) Video of White Pickup

On the morning of September 17th, 2015, an individual driving a white pickup with a trailer delivered a load of pheasants from a farm in Gregory County to a pheasant hunting preserve north of Platte.  Law enforcement has reviewed the gas station surveillance video of the vehicle coming and going through Platte, interviewed the driver of the truck, the pheasant raiser, and obtained the invoice from the day of delivery.   The route is consistent with the video, including the trip to the hunting preserve and on the return trip having the pheasant crates empty and stacked up and ratcheted down.   All individuals involved have been cooperative with law enforcement.

II) The 2:57 a.m. call from the Westerhuis landline to Nicole Westerhuis’ cell phone

Phone records demonstrate a call from the Westerhuis landline to Nicole Westerhuis’ cell phone.  The call began at 2:57:54 and ended at 2:58:37, lasting 43 seconds.  It is believed that Nicole’s cell phone device and any voice message on the device were destroyed in the fire.  On September 24th, 2015, seven days after the tragic incident, MCEC deactivated Scott and Nicole’s cellular telephones.   Verizon, as the carrier, contracts with a third-party to provide voice messaging service. The third-party only retains voice messaging while a cell phone is active. Once the deactivation occurred, the actual voice message could not be retrieved by the third-party carrier.

Further investigation has confirmed the installation of an automation alarm system in the Westerhuis residence approximately three-years ago.  The fire alarm system is tied to the residence’s landline.  The system was programmed to first call Scott Westerhuis’ cell phone and then Nicole Westerhuis’ cell phone in the event of a fire alarm.   Consistent with the alarm programming the first call came to Scott Westerhuis’ cell phone at 2:56:35 and ended at 2:57:45. Nine seconds later came the second call to Nicole’s cell phone starting at 2:57:54 and ended at 2:58:34. Although the voice mail on Nicole’s actual cell phone is believed to be destroyed and Verizon’s third-party carrier did not maintain the actual voice mail message, the follow-up investigation with the alarm installation company has confirmed that the call from the Westerhuis’ landline to both cell phones in the order programmed would have been consistent with and in all likelihood the automated alarm notification.   

III) Safety or lock deposit boxes.

The investigation has involved two safety or lock deposit boxes.   First, there was a bank deposit box that had been obtained by Scott Westerhuis.  Law enforcement executed a search warrant on November 11th, 2015, in relation to the safety deposit box.  Although the Search Warrant Return has been filed, consistent with the Order to Seal it is not appropriate to disclose the specific contents at this time.  Generally, there was nothing of evidentiary value in relation to the death investigation. 

At different times witnesses have also described a safe or lock box contained in various locations on the Westerhuis property.  It is generally described as a small, portable, gray safe or lock box.  Law enforcement has on two separate occasions, when processing the fire scene and subsequent search, specifically looked in the location areas witnesses described.  Based upon statements from witnesses, the safe is believed to be similar in nature to the SentrySafe 1100 Fire-safe chest that provides only a ½ hour of fire protection.  Safes of this nature generally have limited fire protection capability based upon amount of heat and duration. In the event the public has any further information regarding the safe of this general description including surrounding its purchase, we are kindly requesting it be provided to law enforcement.  


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