A tipster directed Spokane police Sunday to the vehicle taken Friday night from the home of a slain mother and her two sons, but the nationwide manhunt for the suspected killer continues.
Police continue to seek convicted felon Dustin W. Gilman, 22, who had been staying in the north Spokane home of Nick and Tracy Ader and Tracy’s sons, 8 and 10.
“Every cop in the city is chomping at the bit to find this guy,” Sgt. Sean Nemec said.
The woman and her sons were found shot dead Friday night while her husband, Nick Ader, was in the hospital with pancreatitis, a family member said.
“They were just the sweetest boys ever,” said Melody Ponsness, Tracy Ader’s cousin. “They always gave you a hug before you had to go back home. It’s hard to find words. It’s just so shocking.”
More than 100 friends and family converged on the line of well-kept homes near the family’s house. People left stuffed animals, flowers, balloons and candles at a makeshift shrine. Melted wax from the candles spilled in streams into the gutter.
“It was very, very touching,” Ponsness said. “It was just wonderful to see how many people are supporting our family during this horrible time.”
The vigil provided a lead in finding Gilman, who spent nine months in prison in 2009 after he was convicted of two counts of second-degree trafficking in stolen property. Fearing Gilman might arrive at the home during the vigil, some mourners asked Spokane police to send a couple of officers.
“A woman at the vigil contacted an officer. She told him that the car we were looking for was behind the Zip Trip,” Nemec said. “We rushed immediately over here, and sure enough it was here.”
Officers found the 2007 Nissan Pathfinder taken from the home at 4411 N. Whitehouse St. It was parked west of the Washington Department of Ecology office and south of the Zip Trip near Monroe Street and Wellesley Avenue.
Nemec said officers could not see any weapons in the Pathfinder. A police dog was unable to pick up the suspect’s trail. The Pathfinder was towed to an impound yard, “because we are going to process every inch of it,” Nemec said.
Since the vehicle was located only two blocks from the home of Gilman’s father, Larry Gilman, officers obtained permission to search his home and came up empty, said Sgt. Mark Griffiths, who works for the Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit.
On Saturday, Larry Gilman told police that he’d spoken to his son on the phone and heard a shot, which made Gilman believe that his son had committed suicide. Larry Gilman told police that his son told him he was in an area north of Spokane.
But a police search turned up empty, Nemec said.
Dustin Gilman had been living with the Aders at their home for several months. He watched over the two boys, attended family gatherings and celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving at the Spokane Valley home of Tracy Ader’s stepfather, Steve Ponsness.
Griffiths said investigators are operating under the belief that Gilman remains in Spokane. However, alerts have been sent via the National Crime Information Center to all 49 other states. Border agents are also on the lookout for Gilman.
“We’ve checked a few residences nearby where he had some sort of connection in the past,” Griffiths said. “We have a witness who saw the vehicle at 5 p.m. yesterday. The car was here, which leads us to continue to search in this area.”
Several weapons were taken from the house where Ader and her children were found. “We have no reason to believe (Gilman) is not armed,” Griffiths said. “I imagine family and friends are as afraid of him as everyone else.”
Nick Ader attended the vigil but declined a request for an interview.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Lisa Stueve, whose children were friends with the Ader boys. “They were just the nicest family. The toughest part is trying to help the kids understand.”
Debby Rigsby said her son was best friends with one of the Ader boys.
“It’s devastating. It’s horrible. It’s sickening,” she said, looking at the shrine. “My kids are taking it hard. They will be missed.”
Nick Ader’s first cousin, Darek Phillips, and his wife, Annie, attended the vigil to support the grieving father.
“It’s a comfort seeing how the community joins together like this,” Darek Phillips said. “I just hope they find (the suspect) so he can pay for what he has done.”