SANDPOINT – The parents of Chris West moved here from Guam 10 years ago after searching for a safe place to raise their five children.
On Sunday morning, the 25-year-old West was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head, leaving his parents and police wondering who his killer could be.
“He had a lot of friends in town,” said his mother, Tina West, Monday afternoon. “I don’t know of anybody who would want to hurt Chris. It’s just a mystery, why anybody would want to do this.”
Sandpoint Police Chief Mark Lockwood released the identity of the slaying victim Monday as Christopher Elliot West, a 1998 Sandpoint High School graduate.
West was found lying prone next to his pickup truck behind the Evergreen Towing garage at 2208 Great Northern Road shortly before 8 a.m. Sunday by a man who lives in a mobile home on the property.
West was going to the garage Saturday night to replace a part on his truck, he told his mother that evening when he stopped by to see her at Wal-Mart in Ponderay, where she works.
“It was about 7 in the evening. He was in good spirits,” she said. “Everything he told me he was doing, he did. He said, ‘I love you Mom, see you later.’ “
West talked with friends later in the evening, perhaps as late as 11 p.m., Lockwood said. “People saw him between 10 and 11 p.m.,” he said, not elaborating. Police are keeping many details secret while they work leads.
A medical examiner performed an autopsy on West Monday in Spokane, after which Lockwood confirmed that West died from a gunshot wound to the head. Lockwood would not say what type of gun was used or whether they recovered the bullet, but he did say the weapon is missing.
No suspect has been named in the case – Sandpoint’s first homicide in about eight years – and Lockwood wouldn’t speculate whether it was a stranger who may have wandered up the nearby railroad tracks or someone West knew.
“We’ve gotten some phone calls, some more tips. We’re following some more leads,” Lockwood said.
West also had talked to the owner of Evergreen Towing on Saturday night and had picked up keys to the property, Lockwood said. West had a business relationship of sorts with the owner, by assisting in the salvage and sale of spare parts, according to Lockwood and Tina West.
When he was found the next morning, the lights he was using to illuminate his pickup truck were still blazing, Lockwood said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that he was working on his truck,” said a former teacher of West’s, Bud Lang, who described West as a “nice, quiet kid.” Lang teaches ecology and natural resource management at Sandpoint High, but that wasn’t West’s favorite subject.
“He was into automobiles,” Lang said. “If he’d finish his work in my class, he’d always go over to the auto shop and work.”
West built his own car in high school and dreamed of building and racing his own race car, said his mother. He collected speeding tickets from driving his Camaro too fast on area roads, she said.
“Chris has a lot of ideas and a lot of things that he liked to do,” she said. “He had a different dream every week, but it seemed like his dreams were bigger than he is.”
Since graduating, West had been working off and on in construction and always working on cars. He was recently divorced and had a 4-year-old son, Dakota, from an earlier relationship.
In his immediate family, he leaves behind his parents, Mark and Tina West of Sandpoint, brothers Shawn and Jeff, and sisters Shannon and Natalie, as well as many friends in the area.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
“We came here to live in a safe place for our family,” Tina West said Monday. “We thought we found the place.”
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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