Opinion | Vigilance helped bring a close to tragedy

As the whirl of choppers dies down and the satellite vans depart the Valley, those of us who call the place home are left to ponder the lasting effects of rare brutality.

For ten days, the Keller family killings have been the most-talked about event in the Valley, garnering rare national attention to a place more remembered for its scenic beauty than grisly crimes. In my five years at this desk, I’ve never seen a worse tragedy unfold in the Valley. It comes on top of two months of similar tragedies—first the deadly February 15 plane crash that killed three people on Mount Si, then the fatal shooting of a local man who broke into a Si View neighborhood residence March 30. It’s a triple shock that’s left me numb. Horrific things like these aren’t supposed happen here.

The story that started to unfold last Sunday, first with the report of a fire, then the realization that a local man may have murdered his family, and had been building a sophisticated bunker on Rattlesnake Ridge, remote but still very close to where so many people visit and hike, is shocking.

Why did this happen? Could it have been prevented? Right now, we don’t really know. Peter Keller’s co-workers didn’t see any serious warning signs, and it’s doubtful whether his own family had any indication this was coming.

The reasons for his actions boggle the mind. Court papers suggest Keller was preparing for some sort of end of the world.

Unless more clues are forthcoming from the computer files that detectives have discovered, we may never know exactly what motivated him to end that world for his own family in such a chilling way.

There are still so many questions—why did Keller go through such elaborate measures, why did he abandon his car at the library. And after eight years of planning, why did he act now?

As life finally, hopefully gets back to normal, but with so few answers, I feel compelled to reach for some kind of moral from all of this, some kind of useful lesson. Two things come to mind.

First is the role that locals played in helping solve this case and ending the search. The North Bend neighbors who reported the arson fire Sunday morning may not have known that their prompt calls kept vital evidence from being destroyed. But that response was vital, as were the efforts of citizens whose tips led officers to the Rattlesnake Ridge trailhead.

While it was too late for the Keller women, these vigilant actions may possibly have saved other lives, and go to show that none of us lives in isolation—we can all play a role in preventing, witnessing or solving crimes, be they small or large.

Secondly, it’s worth underlining the skill and dedication that we witnessed in our police as they tracked Keller to ground. County and regional SWAT team members risked their lives and exhausted their bodies on the hill, using non-lethal gas, flying in a negotiator and giving the man time to give himself up. The expense, time, technology and effort that went into this response is amazing. I believe they did their utmost to bring him out of that hole alive, so that we could have justice and some answers.

Unfortunately, it looks like the answers will have to wait.


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