FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : Tuesday, November 3, 2015
CONTACT: Sara Rabern (605)773-3215
Westerhuis Final Fire and Death Investigation Results Released
PIERRE, S.D - Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today that the Division of Criminal Investigation has completed its investigation into the house fire and loss of the Westerhuis family.
“Forensic evidence and the totality of the investigation confirms Scott Westerhuis was responsible for the deaths of Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis, before setting fire to his home and taking his own life,” said Jackley. “This tragedy has affected an entire community, and we continue to offer our prayers and thoughts for the Westerhuis and Fish families. The joint state and federal investigation into the financial circumstances surrounding the Gear-Up Program remains an ongoing priority.”
On September 17, 2015, a catastrophic house fire occurred at the Westerhuis residence located at 36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. The scene was secured by law enforcement, and DCI was contacted by the South Dakota Fire Marshal’s Office to assist in the house fire and death investigation.
ATF/DCI Accelerant K-9 Maggie was deployed at the scene. Maggie indicated to the presence of an accelerant at the scene. The location of the indication was adjacent to Scott Westerhuis’ body and the recovered shotgun. Samples were taken from this location to identify the type of accelerant used. Tests conducted at the North Dakota State Forensic Lab were unable to identify further information due to the catastrophic nature of the fire and the inability to obtain good testing samples.
The shotgun recovered near Scott Westerhuis’ body was determined to be a Charles Daly Field Model 12 gauge. Forensic testing confirmed a fired round was in chamber and the shotgun had not cycled. All shot sizes in victims and Scott Westerhuis were consistent with #5 and #6 shot.
Final death certificates have been filed. The cause and manner of death for Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis were homicide by shotgun wounds. The cause and manner of death for Scott Westerhuis was shotgun wound and suicide. Final autopsy results confirm all 6 family members had no soot in their airways.
The investigation into the fire and the deaths included scene reconstruction, witness interviews conducted, evidence collected at the scene and forensic testing. The investigation did not provide any further evidence of foul play and are consistent with the forensic autopsy findings and death certificates. The forensic testing included, but was not limited to firearms functionality, firearms ballistics exams, serial number restoration and fire debris analysis.
The Attorney General would like to thank the Charles Mix County Sheriff’s Office, Platte Fire Department, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office for their assistance during the death investigation. The Attorney General again offers condolences to the family and friends of both the Westerhuis and Fish family’s during this most difficult time.
To view the timeline and photos please click on the link.