September 7, 2011 in City

A grief with two sides

Friends of slain woman, shooter describe nightmarish outcome of one-way love affair
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

From left, Matthew Setliff, Nikki McConnell and Daja Varnell mourn the loss of Jennifer Setliff, who was shot and killed Saturday in an apparent murder-suicide.
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On her final day, Jennifer Setliff felt silly.

She dyed a pair of hot pink and purple streaks into her dark hair and tried on outfit after outfit. She laughed and made fun of herself with girlfriends.

“She felt pretty and happy and confident. She was on top of the world,” said friend Daja Varnell.

Such whimsical moments revealed a side of Setliff that endeared her to friends and family, and on Saturday she basked in one of those rare and wonderful days when everything seems to go right.

That same day Shawn Hines was drinking again, according to friends of both, brooding over his one-way crush on Setliff.

About 9 p.m. he walked into her apartment across the hall from his own, looked at her with a blank expression and shot her five times with a .357-caliber handgun. Later, in his own bathroom, he shot and killed himself.

Friends and family of 20-year-old Setliff and 26-year-old Hines are left grieving and trying to make sense of Saturday’s murder-suicide in north Spokane.

“I loved her so much,” Matthew Setliff said of his sister. “And I also lost Shawn. He was one of my best fishing buddies. I’m so angry with him right now. But I also care for him.”

Hines was a blackout drinker who would launch into alcohol-fueled tirades, then act the next morning as if nothing had happened, said Adrianna “Nikki” McConnell, a friend of both Hines and Setliff.

For the past couple of years Hines’ life was falling apart. He fought alcoholism and depression and became unemployed, said McConnell, who said he shared his diagnosis with her.

His apartment in the east 200 block of Westview Avenue was in shambles. Piles of trash, clothes and other possessions were strewn about. No one was allowed inside the place he had shared with his mother for years until she left months ago to care for an ailing relative.

“You know that show ‘Hoarders’? That’s what it was like,” said Varnell, who knew both and spent Saturday with Jennifer Setliff.

The young adults were a tight-knit bunch who would gather for parties, to watch movies and listen to music.They cared for Hines and worried about his personal struggles.

They knew of his infatuation with Setliff. He tried to spark a romantic relationship with jewelry and special acts of kindness. On Valentine’s Day he gave her an amethyst set into a band of Black Hills gold. He paired the ring with a matching necklace.

Setliff accepted the gifts but made it clear, the friends insisted, that nothing romantic would ever develop.

Sheriff’s Detective Dave Thornburg said in a news release Tuesday evening that the two “did have a past dating relationship and investigators believe this may have played a part into Saturday’s shooting.”

The friends said Tuesday that police had been called to the apartment before Saturday on account of Hines’ behavior. Several months ago Hines drank a pint of vodka and became angry. He tore a Nerf football apart and took a halfhearted swing at Dave Bellman, 43, who for years had acted as a friend and father figure to Setliff and allowed her to live in his apartment.

Hines then cursed his friends, slammed doors, hit walls, squirted barbecue sauce all over the apartment, called Setliff vile names and threatened her before storming off to his apartment across the hall.

The friends called 911, worried he might hurt himself or someone else.

Spokane sheriff’s deputies arrived, took down information and knocked on Hines’ door. He didn’t answer. The situation had calmed down and the deputies left. The next morning Hines apologized and all was forgiven.

Yet Bellman remained concerned, he said, when Hines, his friend of many years, bragged about leveling the barrel of his hunting rifle at the door when the deputies were knocking on it.“I don’t know whether I believe it, but that’s what he claimed,” Bellman said.

The group continued its friendship with Hines. He was often kind and funny, and they considered his tantrums as harmless personality flaws.

But his infatuation with Setliff had deepened over the past several weeks.

“It was sad because we all knew it was unrequited love,” said McConnell.

Setliff struggled as a teen but also made some good decisions, said Bellman.

She gave birth to a daughter in spring 2009 and gave her up for an open adoption. The arrangement has been lovely, said Setliff’s grandmother, Mona Steiner.

“Today her baby is in a wonderful place,” she said.

Setliff then graduated from Havermale High School in 2010 and planned to go to Spokane Community College and study criminal justice.

“Her whole life was right in front of her,” said her brother Matthew.

Last week Setliff became more frightened of Hines. His threats and fits were more frequent and intense. Friends say she called the Sheriff’s Office twice.

Varnell and McConnell said deputies investigated but again failed to contact Hines. Setliff never sought a restraining order.

Sheriff’s deputies haven’t released any such details, and sheriff’s officials did not return phone calls Tuesday. The case remains under investigation.

When Hines walked into Setliff’s apartment Saturday night, she was sitting with her brother, McConnell and Varnell.

Hines stood less than 10 feet away, brought the handgun out from behind his back and began firing. Setliff raised her arms, recalled her friends, but bullets pierced her chest.

Matthew Setliff jumped from the couch and tackled Hines as another shot was fired. Varnell and McConnell fled to the kitchen and began screaming and calling for help. Matthew Setliff then fled the apartment, worried that he would be shot.

“I was scared, and then I realized that the girls were still in there so I ran back in,” he said. Hines had since returned to his own apartment as emergency calls went out. Setliff called Bellman, who raced to the apartment ahead of medics and deputies and tried to resuscitate his sister.

“She was killed instantly,” he said. “All of us now wish we could have done more to prevent it.”

All are haunted by the shooting, and the lasting image of the color draining from Jennifer Setliff’s face.

“Worst thing I could ever imagine,” said McConnell. “She was such a good person.”

And the friends grieve for Hines and his family, too.

“We loved Shawn and his family. They mean so much to us. It’s not their fault what happened,” said Bellman. “We will always be here for them, too.”

Varnell said her friend would want them to persevere.

“We all have to think about how Jennifer would want us to be,” Varnell said. “She’d want us to be strong and to love.”

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