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High Desert Man Kills 3 of His Children, Then Himself

The bodies were found by a deputy who went to the home near Apple Valley after a concerned family member called authorities.

January 06, 2006|Lance Pugmire and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

A San Bernardino County man shot and killed three of his children before fatally shooting himself in his home in the high desert, authorities said Thursday.

Wesley Randall Burke, 53, shot daughters Jessica, 21, and April, 16, and son Michael, 14, at their rural hillside home near Apple Valley, said Cindy Beavers, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The four bodies were found in the master bedroom of the single-story house after a deputy forced entry into the home at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at the request of a concerned family member, Beavers said.

"The deputy got no response at the door," Beavers said. When he went in, "he found the four dead."

Homicide detectives said a surviving relative reported that Wesley Burke had been suffering from depression in recent days, Beavers said.

Burke's neighbors described the man as a quiet, sometimes hot-tempered loner.

The children's mother, Teresa Vest of Milton, Ky., said Burke was abusive to her "physically and every which way possible" before they divorced more than a decade ago. The pair separated while living in Alaska, Beavers said.

Vest, distraught after learning of the slayings Thursday, said she had remained in contact with some of her children but did not offer any details about her former husband or the family. There were no reports of abuse found in available court records, and Vest did not say if she had reported the allegations against Burke to police in Alaska.

"I just want to get down there and see my daughter," she said.

Three of their other children, a 30-year-old daughter and 29- and 20-year-old sons, were not inside the home when the slayings occurred.

"We are trying to establish a motive," Beavers said.

Detectives believe Burke killed the three children and himself Wednesday afternoon.

His daughter Jessica called her older sister, Crystal, sometime Wednesday afternoon. When the sister returned the call to the Burke household and no one answered, she asked deputies at the Apple Valley sheriff's station for assistance.

A deputy knocked on the Burkes' door in the 9800 block of Buena Vista Street at about 6:30 p.m., but there was no response. Before he was able to enter the home, the deputy had to respond to another incident in town. Crystal, still worried about her relatives' safety, asked sheriff's officials to return to the home later that night, which is when the deputy entered the home and found the bodies.

"We believe the victims and suspect were dead prior to our first response," Beavers said. "They were all killed instantly."

The gun used in the deaths was found in the house, Beavers said.

Neighbors said Burke and his children lived a relatively reclusive life. Neighbors were uncertain how Burke made a living. Like other children in the isolated area east of Interstate 15 and north of the San Bernardino Mountains, Burke's children went for desert hikes, rode bicycles and motorcycles and climbed trees, said neighborhood friends.

"It's very shocking," said Kristy Gentry, 15, a friend of the teenage victims who attended Apple Valley High School. "They seemed like a happy family. I went over to their house a few times, and the dad never said anything to me. He was very quiet. He just sat at his computer."

Thursday afternoon, three barking dogs roamed the large yard of the beige, brown-trimmed hillside home. A chain-link fence enclosed the yard, which had a metal swing set, a child's stroller and a trampoline. Two porch lights still burned, a Christmas wreath hung from the front gate, and holiday lights decorated the eaves.

"We live in a very quiet area, and some people move out here because they want to be left alone," said Katie Porter, another neighbor. "They appeared to be the type of family who wanted to keep to themselves."

Porter, a San Bernardino County social worker, said she had had a confrontation with Burke in 2004 after what she described as an innocent squabble between her daughter and one of Burke's sons. After the incident, Burke steered his minivan toward her daughter in a menacing manner, spinning gravel and dust at the small girl, she said.

"I told him if he ever threatened my children again, I would call the police.... We agreed to keep our distance," Porter said. "I told my kids if he ever came around our house again to call me, so I could call the police. That behavior was just not normal, and it was a red flag to me."

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