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Deadly North Bend fire: Victims were shot to death, police seeking third resident as person of interest
Two women found dead inside a North Bend house that burned Sunday morning were not killed by the fire, but by gunshot wounds, the King County Medical Examiner's office reported Monday afternoon.
The women have not been identified by the Medical Examiner, yet, but are believed to be a mother and daughter who lived in the home, in the 47000 block of Southeast 159th Street. A third resident, Peter A. Keller, 41, is considered a "person of interest" in their deaths, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.
"We're not ruling him out as a suspect," said Cindi West, spokesperson for the sheriff's office, but for now, the department doesn't have enough evidence to indicate he is a suspect.
“We have two victims who have been shot and killed, weapons are missing from the house, and we have not been able to contact Keller. We want to talk to him to see if he had any involvement in this case,” Sheriff Steve Strachan told the Record.
The case began as a house fire, reported by a neighbor who saw smoke coming from the roof, around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, April 22. Firefighters from 14 different companies, including Fall City, Snoqualmie, and several Eastside Fire & Rescue responded to the call. The first crew smashed through the front door, which was barricaded by a couch and other furniture, but this was not suspicious.
"Apparently, that's just the way they kept their living room," Strachan said.
Inside, firefighters discovered the bodies of the two women, and tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate them. They also found a cat and dog, dead of gunshot wounds, and seven gasoline-filled containers, Strachan said, which prompted a call to the King County Sheriff's bomb disposal unit.
"We learned there were gas cans, filled with gas, spread out throughout the house, and we began thinking about booby traps," said West. "We actually sent a robot in.. just for our safety."
The robot, part of the bomb disposal unit, searched the home after the fire was out and found a device that appeared to be a pipe bomb. The robot detonated the device, which turned out not to be a threat, West said.
However, Strachan said he was alarmed by the premeditation involved in the incident, that someone could place seven gas cans throughout the home, considering the threat they could pose to responding firefighters. "That shows how dangerous and heinous this crime was," he said.
The fire is currently being investigated as an arson, but West expected the investigation would conclude today.
Meanwhile, the search for Keller will continue. Police located a vehicle missing from the home around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, near the North Bend Library, and are interested in finding out how long the 2003 blue-grey Toyota Corolla, with Washington plate 911 YWK, had been parked there.
"We're going to post (Keller's) photo at the trailheads and just let everybody know we're looking for this person," West said.
Keller is described as 5’5”, 175 pounds, and an avid hiker.
A helicopter searching the North Bend area Monday morning was not specifically searching for Keller, West said, but was also looking into a report of a homeless encampment up in the mountains.
Detectives from the King County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit and Fire Investigations Unit are conducting the investigation.
Update: Truck sighted?
As of Tuesday afternoon, police are asking people that regularly hike trails in the I-90 corridor area to call police if in they remember seeing a red Toyota pickup routinely parked at any trailhead in the last year.
Police were told that Keller usually drove a 1994 faded red Toyota pickup when he went hiking.
“We have the truck, but we want to know if anyone has seen it regularly parked at any trailhead,” said West.
Police also said that he occasionally took his mountain bike with him and recently had been seen hiking with a “very large backpack.”
If you remember seeing this truck parked at any trailhead in the last year, or have any information about the case, please call the King County Sheriff’s Office at (206) 296-3311 or 911.