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Laguna Niguel Mother Kills 2 Daughters

October 15, 1991|BILL BILLITER and LEN HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAGUNA NIGUEL — A 39-year-old homemaker, whose Marine husband was out of town, shot and killed their two young daughters at their home here late Sunday and then turned the gun on herself in an unsuccessful suicide attempt, authorities said.

Kristine Cushing, described as a Brownie troop leader and active volunteer in her daughter's third-grade class, was booked on two counts of murder after she was treated for a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the head, Sheriff's Lt. Richard J. Olson said.

Her two children, Amy Elizabeth, 8, and Stephanie Marie, 4, were shot in the head. Their bodies were found late Sunday night in the master bedroom of the family home on a hill overlooking the Saddleback Valley.

No motive for the deaths has been established, but Olson noted that Kristine Cushing was in the process of divorcing her husband, Lt. Col. John P. Cushing Jr., 38, a fighter pilot originally from Boston.

Lt. Col. Cushing, who was on a fishing trip at the time of the killings, is commander of a squadron of F/A-18 fighters at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and was among the first Marine aviators sent to the Persian Gulf.

Investigators spent the day Monday trying to piece together exactly what happened at the comfortable Cushing family home in the Niguel Summit tract of Laguna Niguel. Although details were sketchy, they said Kristine Cushing apparently called a sister in Boston Sunday night to tell her of her plans to kill the children and then take her own life.

About 11:20 p.m. Sunday, authorities said, Kristine Cushing called the Orange County Sheriff's Department and told dispatchers that she had shot her daughters and had also tried to kill herself. Ironically, sheriff's dispatchers were at the same time talking by phone to the sister in Boston, who had called to alert the officers.

Olson said the call from Boston came in about one minute before Kristine Cushing called 911 to report the killings.

When officers arrived at the home, Kristine Cushing was found to have suffered a wound, caused by a bullet grazing her head, and was taken to Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in nearby Laguna Hills. Olson said the woman appeared "distraught" when she was taken into custody.

The bodies of the children were found in the master bedroom. Amy, the 8-year-old child, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her sister, Stephanie, 4, died at 1:05 a.m. Monday at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo.

"Everything happened within minutes," Olson said. "First came the call from the sister, and then the 911 (emergency) call from the suspect. She called at the same time the desk officers were talking to the sister. The suspect said she had just shot her two daughters and herself. Our deputies got to the house within two minutes. They found the suspect and the bodies of the two victims in the master bedroom."

Olson declined to say whether investigators believe that the two children were sleeping at the time of the shootings. He said the girls were shot with a pistol.

Bail for Kristine Cushing was set at $250,000, and Olson said Monday afternoon that she had not been released. Her arraignment in South Orange County Municipal Court is scheduled today. The father, Lt. Col. Cushing, commands Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 at El Toro. The pilot of an F/A-18, the Marine Corps' top-line fighter jet, he was deployed to Saudi Arabia Aug. 20, 1990, and returned March 26.

The Cushing home, at 30262 Anamonte, is in an area of attractive hillside houses in the $400,000 price range. The neighborhood has a commanding view of the Saddleback Valley of South Orange County.

Neighbors were at a loss to explain why a woman who seemed so happy and active would do such a thing. They described Kristine Cushing as an outgoing and friendly woman who volunteered at Amy's elementary school and would take cookies to new neighbors in the tract.

"It was such a shock. It makes me so sad," said Tatsuko Wein, a neighbor. Wein said she had heard no shots during the night and only learned of the incident when she walked out Monday morning and saw patrol cars in the neighborhood.

Wein said that last Friday she had invited Kristine Cushing to a party the following week. Wein said she responded: "I would love to come. What can I bring?"

"She seemed fine . . . everything seemed OK," Wein said, adding that "we knew she was going to get a divorce because she told us that." But she said Kristine Cushing did not seem overly distraught about the pending divorce.

Another neighbor, Julie Manion, 18, also expressed shock at the deaths and attempted suicide.

"She was a very, very nice lady--very devoted to her kids," Manion said. "I never saw her without them. . . . It's really strange. We can't believe it."

The children's father was not notified of their deaths until late Monday morning, authorities said. He returned to the family home early Monday afternoon and was visited by fellow Marines offering condolences.

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