SAN DIEGO — A 58-year-old unemployed computer salesman was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot Friday morning just hours after he gunned down his teenage son while the youth was running with other members of his high-school cross-country team.
William Hoffine killed his 14-year-old son, Evan Nash, out of anger over a long-running custody battle with the son's mother, police said.
"He decided that his son would be better off dead, rather than living without him," police Lt. Mike Hurley said. "There's no excuse for this."
On Wednesday morning, Hoffine was served with a restraining order to stay away from Evan and his mother, Lucy Nash, an art teacher at a high school in suburban Imperial Beach. As part of that order, Hoffine was directed to turn in the guns he owned to the Sheriff's Department.
Instead, he waited Thursday afternoon between parked cars on a city street along the route that Evan and other members of the Point Loma High School cross-country team use to train. Hoffine called out as the boy ran by. The boy responded by smiling and waving to his father as he ran past the People's Organic Food Cooperative, police said.
Hoffine shot the boy from behind while the youth was running, then calmly reloaded his pistol and fired several shots at point-blank range into the boy's head, police said.
As horrified witnesses and other runners scurried for cover, Hoffine fled to a neighbor's home in the Ocean Beach section of San Diego. The police SWAT squad soon surrounded the home and a police negotiator contacted Hoffine by telephone and attempted to persuade him to surrender.
While hunkered down in the home, avoiding windows to keep out of a possible line of fire from officers, Hoffine called several friends to tell them what he had done. In a calm voice he left a message on a friend's answering machine: "I have murdered Evan. I am going to kill myself. I'm so sorry that I had to do this."
After nearly 10 hours of sporadic negotiations, police fired tear gas and "flash-bang" grenades into the home and stormed through the front door at 1:40 a.m. Hoffine was found dead. . No suicide note was found, Police Department spokesman David Cohen said.
"It's unbelievable that a father could do this," said Sheriff's Department Lt. Jim Ast, whose department had been responsible for serving the restraining order.
Crisis counselors were present Friday morning at Point Loma High and Farb Middle School, which Evan attended last year, and Mar Vista High School, where Lucy Nash, 56, has taught for three decades.
Court papers indicate a 12-year court battle between Nash and Hoffine over custody and child support. Hoffine had not helped support his son financially since 1995.
Hoffine's computer and video business, which he named for his son, was failing, documents indicate. A court hearing was scheduled for next week over Hoffine's mounting debts to business partners, friends, banks, lawyers and the Internal Revenue Service, which amounted to several hundred thousand dollars. Hoffine declared bankruptcy three years ago.
Hoffine and Lucy Nash never married and had only a brief romantic relationship, court records show.
A counselor initiated the restraining order proceeding after Evan told him in a therapy session in late August that he was worried his father might try to harm him.
In court papers, Hoffine is described by a psychologist as suicidal, volatile and given to bragging about his proficiency with firearms.
At 6:55 a.m. Wednesday, Hoffine was served at his duplex with the restraining order to stay away from Evan and Lucy Nash. He was given 48 hours to turn in his firearms to the Sheriff's Department. A hearing was set for Wednesday to determine whether the order should be made permanent.
Friends, teachers and others on Friday remembered Evan as an intelligent youth with a sunny disposition and as a leader in a program to curb youth violence. Active in sports, he talked of joining the military after graduating from high school.
"He was very loved here, and he will be very, very missed," said Susan Levy, principal at Farb Middle School.
At Farb, Evan helped found a chapter of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, a local group dedicated to anti-violence, particularly involving teenagers. The group is named for a 20-year-old San Diegan killed during a robbery attempt in 1995. "He was a real peacemaker, a true leader," program supervisor Alexis Lukas said. "He was such a positive force. He told us, 'We can do anything we put our minds to.' He was very thoughtful but also lighthearted."
Lukas said she believed Evan and his father had a good relationship. Court records indicate the two had gone on camping trips and that the father had taught his son how to use firearms safely.
At times, Hoffine and Lucy Nash shared custody. In recent years, however, Hoffine lost custody privileges after falling behind in support payments.
"His father seemed to care very much about him and stayed involved," Lukas said. "Evan loved his father."