A relative called it obsession. A friend said it was dedication.
Either way, Richard Ross’ relationship with his elderly mother and his passion for his lifelong home may have caused his emotional meltdown Thursday.
When his fury subsided, Ross and his younger brother were dead, his sister was wounded and his mother was without the home she has lived in for 36 years.
Ross, 46, shot his brother to death and fired numerous times at his sister after the two came to his Spokane Valley house to escort their mother to an appointment, another sister said Friday.
Bob Ross, whose age is not known, died on the front lawn of the yellow house after being shot in the head at close range.
Barbara Janosky, 44, was in critical condition for a second day at Deaconess Medical Center, “fighting for her life,” her sister Becky Toombs said. Janosky was shot in the hip and abdomen.
Ruth Ross, the 74-year-old mother, suffered minor injuries after she fell fleeing the gunfire.
Her home and everything she owned is gone.
“It seems like even though she’s still alive, she has nothing left,” Toombs said. “She has the clothes she had on, and that’s it.”
Authorities believe Richard Ross died in the house at 801 N. University after the fire he set inside consumed the 87-year-old structure.
Neighbors saw him clutching a handgun in his right hand in a second-story window before he disappeared from view.
Deputies pulled a badly burned body from the rubble late Thursday. They are awaiting dental records to confirm the identity.
A family dispute sparked the violence.
Toombs said she and Bob Ross and Janosky had decided to move their nearly blind mother into a first-floor apartment in a complex managed by Janosky in the Valley.
Ruth Ross had trouble getting to the bathroom in the family home because it was on the second floor, said Toombs, who lives in Seattle.
Richard Ross opposed the move, she said.
Toombs said her brother feared he would lose control over his mother, who has diabetes.
“Richard loved my mother, but he needed to control someone. And because she was disabled, he controlled her,” said Toombs, who said Ross suffered emotional trauma after serving as a Marine in Vietnam.
“He has said that when mom dies, he would take his life. And maybe (moving) mom out of the house was the same,” she said.
Her brother also was obsessed with keeping the house in the family and being allowed to live in it, Toombs said.
He was afraid his siblings would sell the house if his mother left, even though family members assured him they wouldn’t, she said.
Ross had been estranged from the rest of the family for some time, Toombs added.
“He was real hung up on inheritance, and I know that’s why he burned the house to the ground,” Toombs said. “So there’d be nothing left.”
But June Skye, a friend of Richard Ross, called him a kind, selfless man who cared for his mother above all else.
“Oh, he was a sweetheart,” said Skye, who’s known Ross for the past two years and occasionally had him into her home to watch videos. “He’d kind of foregone his own life to take care of his mother.”
Richard Ross never married.
Skye said he often talked about how his family was pressuring him to put his mother into a nursing home and that they wanted to sell the house.
“The way I see it, he was fighting for his home and his life,” said Skye. “It’s a sad, terrible thing.”
Whatever the reason, Ross turned cold and calculating as his brother and sister took their mother out the front door Thursday afternoon, neighbors and relatives said.
He retrieved one of the handguns he was known to keep inside and went out the door after the trio.
Ross reportedly took aim over his mother’s shoulder and shot Bob Ross in the head.
“I would just about guess he went after Bob first,” said Toombs, who was not at the house during the shooting. “Richard never liked my brother Bob or I.”
Toombs said doctors believe the gun was so close to her mother’s head, it damaged her hearing.
Ross then fired several shots at Janosky.
Neighbor Lyle Greer said Friday he heard three shots and came out of his garage to investigate.
“I saw a couple ladies down, yelling ‘help me, help me,”’ Greer said.
Ross then came out of his house and walked past his dead brother and bleeding sister to his garage, Greer said. He picked up two gas cans and took them to his house, Greer said.
“Even when he did all this, he was carrying the gun like nothing was wrong,” Greer said. “Just as calm as can be.”
Greer said Ross then got a third gas container from the garage and emptied it onto a white Honda Civic that belonged to his brother and his own car, an El Camino.
Deputies began to arrive, and Ross retreated to his home, Greer said.
He later set the house on fire as deputies implored him to come out. Authorities evacuated a two-block area around the home as ammunition exploded inside.
All residents had returned to their homes by Friday, and the nearby intersection of Broadway and University was opened to normal traffic.
Deputies had closed the crossroads while they searched for evidence.
Toombs said she will ask Ruth Ross where she wants to live before finding her mother a new home.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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