NORTH BEND, Wash. – Peter Keller spent eight years carving his hole in the side of the mountain, camouflaging the rugged underground bunker with ferns and sticks and stocking it with a generator and ammunition boxes sealed in Ziploc bags. Suspected in the deaths of his wife, daughter and pets last weekend, he headed there prepared for the long haul with high-powered rifles, scope and body armor.
Seattle-area tactical officers who slogged for hours over dangerously steep, muddy ground to find him were prepared, too. They pumped in tear gas, called for him over bullhorns, and, after 22 hours, set off explosives along the top of the bunker Saturday.
Keller was inside, already dead of a self-inflicted gunshot. A handgun was next to his body.
The 41-year-old hadn’t been seen since his wife, Lynnettee, and 18-year-old daughter Kaylene were found shot dead in their North Bend area home last weekend.
The raid ended a tense week for law enforcement officials who tried to track down Keller, a gun enthusiast described by his family as having a “survivalist mentality.” That Keller was likely armed and on the loose in an extremely popular hiking and mountain-biking area east of Seattle kept many people on edge.
“The gas didn’t work, we’ve got fresh people here, it was time to take the next step,” King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Katie Larson said. “There’s been a huge sigh of relief. Our people are out safe, and the trails are now safe for the community to use.”
The bunker, tucked into Rattlesnake Ridge, was “amazingly fortified” with at least 13 guns inside, propane tanks, a large gun scope, gas cans and binoculars, sheriff’s Sgt. Cindi West said. Photos released by police showed stacks of ammunition in plastic bags on shelves.
SWAT teams spent a grueling seven hours in the Cascade Mountains foothills Friday morning, virtually crawling over terrain slick with mud from recent rains, before they found the bunker.
A number of officers were treated intravenously for dehydration, and one broke his ankle, West said.
The officers appeared exhausted, their faces smeared with camouflage paint, as they rode down the mountain in sport-utility vehicles or armored carriers to be replaced by fresher teams.
SWAT officers who kept watch on the bunker through Friday night said they saw lights going on and off, and they believed its occupant had everything necessary to remain inside for a long time – including a generator, food, gas mask, bullet-resistant vest and guns.
Photographs found in Keller’s home after they found his wife and daughter gave authorities an idea of where it was; in one picture that they enhanced, detectives could make out buildings in nearby North Bend. Combined with reports from alert hikers who remembered seeing his faded red pickup truck at the Rattlesnake Ridge trail head, the Sheriff’s Office sent experienced trackers to the area, where they found off-trail boot prints confirming their belief that he was somewhere on the ridge.
They could smell smoke from its woodstove before they found it.
Authorities pumped tear gas into the structure Friday, but it failed to flush the man out, either because it didn’t penetrate deep enough into the structure or because the person had a gas mask.
Court documents described Keller as a loner who has a survivalist mentality and has been stockpiling supplies in the woods.
An arrest warrant issued Wednesday accused Keller of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson; the home was set on fire after Lynnettee Keller, 41 and Kaylene were shot in the head.
Their bodies were found in their bedrooms April 23. The family cat and dog were also killed.
The fire at Keller’s home was stopped before the house burned down, and authorities said they found seven gasoline cans placed in different areas of the home.
Kaylene’s boyfriend told detectives that Peter Keller had shown him his gun collection and several large-caliber rifles and handguns, court documents said.
The boyfriend, who was not identified, said Kaylene had told him her father took long hikes on the weekends and was stockpiling supplies at a fort in the woods.
Peter Keller withdrew $6,200 from a bank last week and told one of his co-workers at a computer refurbishing store in Preston that he might not return, according to court documents.