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Man allegedly kills family -- and then disappears

Officials say Shane Miller shot his wife and two daughters near Shingletown, Calif., sparking a manhunt that began May 7. They're not sure if he's still in the area, has fled — or has killed himself.

June 02, 2013|By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times
  • Shasta County sheriff's deputies investigate the scene of a triple homicide near Shingletown, Calif. Shane Franklin Miller, 45, suspected of killing his wife and two young daughters, is the object of a manhunt that began the night of May 7. Authorities aren't sure if he's still in the area, has fled -- or has killed himself.
Shasta County sheriff's deputies investigate the scene of a triple… (Andreas Fuhrmann, Associated…)

After allegedly gunning down his wife and two young daughters, Shane Franklin Miller drove 200 miles to the isolated Northern California town where he grew up. A day later, investigators found his abandoned Dodge pickup, with live rounds for a firearm and a note to his family inside.

"He briefly addressed members and made implied threats toward some of them, and apologized to others," according to the Shasta County Sheriff's Office.

The killings sparked a large manhunt that began the night of May 7. Authorities said Miller, 45, shot his wife Sandy, 34, and daughters Shelby, 8, and Shasta, 5, near Shingletown. Then he fled to Petrolia, a town of about 300 residents in neighboring Humboldt County that abuts the Pacific Ocean and dense forestlands.

A woman he had a child with saw him drive through town and had a brief conversation with him before calling authorities. Deputies found Miller's pickup, not far from the King Range Conservation Area. Two hikers later found his dog, Gigi, a dachshund, abandoned in a parking lot.

The suspect, a convicted felon described as an "avid outdoorsman," has not been seen since, despite a dragnet of more than 70 law enforcement officers, including from the U.S. marshal, that transformed sleepy Petrolia. On Friday, federal officials reopened the 68,000-acre conservation area after it had been closed for two weeks, said Jeff Fontana, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

A warrant released by authorities shed light on the killings, as well as why investigators believe Miller may still be hiding out in a part of California known as the Lost Coast.

"The suspect is very savvy of the area," said Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office.

According to investigators, on the night of the killings, there was a 911 call from the suspect's home on Alpine Way. The dispatcher could hear "sobbing" and "banging." Authorities believe the call was placed either by Miller's wife or one of his daughters. Arriving at the house, deputies found the doors locked and, peering through the window, saw Sandy Miller and one of her daughters lying on the floor. Moments later, they found the other daughter, also dead.

"Areas of the crime scene had large amounts of blood pooled as a result of the injuries to the victims," authorities wrote in a summary of the events. All three victims had been shot more than once.

Spent shell casings and live firearm rounds were found, authorities said, as well as "blue-tipped live rounds" like ones later found in Miller's pickup.

During the investigation, detectives discovered that deputies had responded to a domestic disturbance call at the residence on April 9. Miller's wife left with the assistance of deputies, investigators said.

They also revealed that Sandy Miller had told family that her husband had warned her that he "was going to kill her and their children."

"Detectives also learned through interviews that on the day of the homicide ... Sandy was going to tell Shane that she wanted a place of her own for her and the children in [an] attempt to leave him due to ongoing domestic violence issues," authorities said.

Miller is described as white, 5 feet 10 inches tall and about 200 pounds, with red hair and blue eyes. In 2002, he was charged in San Francisco with growing and selling marijuana, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing a machine gun and money laundering.

Miller pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison. Shasta County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Kent said Miller was discharged from federal parole within the last year. After the killings, family members and others interviewed by investigators said he would surely head for the area near Petrolia, where he grew up.

"Shane Miller's family stated he was skilled and knowledgeable enough to stay hidden in the rugged wooded area for months," the summary of events stated. "Shane Miller also reportedly had a cache of weapons, money and food buried/hidden in the area."

The day after the killings, he was seen by an ex-girlfriend near Petrolia's main drag.

"During the conversation he commented to her that he would not hurt her and that things were going to be OK," authorities said.

Then he was gone.

Humboldt County is a hub for the cultivation of illegal marijuana. "We made it very clear to the citizens that ... our focus was finding a triple homicide suspect," Knight said. "They understood that. We gained their trust so that the suspicion levels went down and we received more cooperation."

Knight said investigators can't say if Miller is still in the area, has fled or even killed himself. "We're scaling back," Knight said of search efforts. "For closure, we'd sure like to know what happened, where he is, whether he's alive or deceased."

Dennis Handy, a 69-year-old sculptor in Petrolia, said the tiny town is starting to feel like its old self.

"It's going back to abnormal, into this quirky little place," Handy said. "It's paradise."

On Friday afternoon while visiting the Petrolia general store, Handy had a brief flashback to the height of the manhunt. More than three dozen law enforcement officers in full camouflage and off-road vehicles gathered as a helicopter buzzed overhead. Knight said there was SWAT training that day, and authorities decided to combine it with the search for Miller.

Handy said some residents believe Miller killed himself, while others think he fled for parts unknown.

"I got 10% that he shot himself," Handy said. "But I think he's gone."

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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