A tracked cell phone signal led police Monday to the body of the suspected killer they’d been hunting ever since a mother and her two children were found dead Friday in their North Spokane home.
A police dog found 22-year-old Dustin William Gilman’s body in a forested area near the Little Spokane River, just north of Spokane city limits, about 10 a.m. Gilman’s father and others had speculated earlier that he’d shot himself after fleeing the murder scene but Spokane police did not disclose how the suspect died or whether firearms were found near the body.
Gilman is the only suspect in the murders of Tracy Ann Ader, 32, and her sons, 8-year-old Kadin, and 10-year-old Damien, who were found dead in their home at 4411 N. Whitehouse St.
Interim Spokane Police Chief Scott Stephens said Gilman’s father said his son was familiar with the area. The manhunt for Gilman focused on a broad area over the weekend until detectives obtained more specific cell phone tower information that led them to focus on a smaller area. Gilman’s body was located in a “plateau, cliff-like area” on 45 acres of private property, Stephens said. The property is owned by a retired orthopedic surgeon who police say has no connection to Gilman.
The discovery of Gilman’s body ended a 60-hour manhunt that included the discovery of Ader’s 2007 Nissan Pathfinder in a secured parking lot near Wellesley Avenue and Monroe Street Sunday afternoon. Detectives believe Gilman stole the SUV after committing the murders. They don’t know how he got to the Wandermere area and suspect he may have had help.
“Obviously he didn’t walk here from the crime scene” Stephens said while standing outside the property at 909 Hazard Road Monday.
Gilman, who family say is related to a friend of Tracy Ader’s husband, had been living with the family for several months as they helped him prepare for school and look for work. He often watched the boys and was doing so Friday while Tracy visited Nick in the hospital, where he reportedly was recovering from pancreatitis. Ader returned home to check on the boys Friday morning, family said. Nick Ader asked a friend to check on her after several hours went by without hearing from her.Stephens said detectives do not yet know a motive for the slayings and may never because everyone involved is now dead.
He commended the police response to the murders, saying Gilman posed a “grave risk to the public and any officer who encountered him.”
Kadin and Damien Ader were in the third and fifth grades at Willard Elementary School, where a team of 10 counselors gathered Monday to help grieving students and their parents, said Terren Roloff, spokeswoman for Spokane Public Schools. Roloff described the boys as “just fabulous students and really well loved.”
A letter sent to parents by Principal Steve Indgjerd described their deaths as a tragedy “beyond the scope of anything I have ever had to address to parents or students.”
Along with excelling academically, the boys participated in sports and music. Damien was responsible for setting up the school’s computer lab each morning “so that teachers and students had instant access to the programs they needed,” Indgjerd wrote.
Spokane Mayor David Condon and City Council President Ben Stuckart issued a prepared statement Monday offering condolences to the victims and their friends and families.
“We have concentrated law enforcement efforts all weekend to address this crime, and today we have seen significant progress,” Condon said. Local churches also opened their doors Monday evening for grieving citizens.
Police have not said how the boys or their mother died but say it was obvious they could not be resuscitated when officers found them Friday night.
Ader was a 1997 Rogers High School graduate who worked at Pitney Bowes with Jan. 1 murder victim Kimberly Rae Schmidt, 34. Detectives do not believe the murders are related.
Ader divorced the boys’ biological father in 2006. She married Nick Ader a couple years ago, family said.
Ader’s family said Gilman spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with them at their Spokane Valley home and was great with the boys. They said they never could have imagined him harming them, and have no idea why he would do so.
Ader’s stepfather, Steve Ponsness, said Monday that he was relieved by Gilman’s death. “I’ll sleep better tonight,” he said.
But Ponsness and his family remain troubled by unanswered questions.
“Especially when someone does themselves in, it’s like great, how do we find out why?” Ponsness said. “But there’s a lot of things in life we ask why and we never get the answers. There’s plans out there, sometimes we just don’t what they are.”
Gilman’s father, Larry Gilman, declined comment Monday.
Dustin had a 2 1/2-year-old daughter with a woman, Brittney Fasino, who obtained a restraining order against him in November 2010.
Fasino said Gilman broke into her apartment twice and damaged the walls and stole her clothes. She said Gilman threatened her over the phone and said he planned to show up at her apartment with a gun. She said she often slept at her mother’s home because she feared Gilman would break into her apartment to kidnap her daughter. Fasino said he called in August and November 2010 to say “his final goodbyes” while threatening suicide. She said she’d never seen Gilman with a gun and told court officials he did not have a substance abuse problem.
But other court records show Gilman’s father kicked him out of his North Jefferson Street home after finding cocaine in his room in September 2008.
Dustin Gilman was convicted of felony trafficking in stolen property after stealing his father’s TV and was sentenced to nine months in jail in December 2009. It wasn’t the first time Gilman was charged with a crime against his father. He was arrested on a burglary charge when he was 16 for breaking into his father’s home. The charge was dismissed in a plea deal that included Gilman pleading guilty to escape for running from the juvenile detention center.
Court records show he was convicted of fourth-degree assault when he was just 10. He also was convicted in Lincoln County in 2005 of stealing money and a gun from his stepfather at his mother’s home in Davenport. In a written confession included in the court file, Gilman said he “was feeling gready so I felt like it would be cool to have some money.” Gilman frequently violated his probation and was described by his father in court documents as a “chronic runaway.” Records show he escaped from juvenile detention and from homes for troubled youth like Excelsior Youth Center and Daybreak. He was accused of smashing a window and breaking a fire sprinkler at Excelsior when he was 11.
He was convicted of harassment when he was 12, followed by convictions for third- and fourth-degree assault when he was 13. He was arrested for assaulting an employee at Excelsior in September 2002.
Recent court records give no indication of mental health issues, but Gilman spent time at the Child Study and Treatment Center at Western State Hospital when he was 13. He assaulted another resident while there, according to court documents.