Deaconess Hospital gunman was a former police officer
The man who shot his wife to death before killing himself on the Deaconess Hospital campus had worked as a police officer in Missouri and told sheriff’s deputies just hours before this week’s fatal attack that he was thinking about returning to law enforcement, documents show.
Christopher Henderson, who also served with the U.S. Navy in Iraq before moving to Spokane three years ago, still has a valid license as a Missouri police officer, the Missouri Department of Public Safety confirmed Friday.
Henderson’s law enforcement experience arose Monday during interviews with Spokane County sheriff’s deputies the day before the fatal attack that left him and his wife, Sheena Henderson, dead. Henderson told deputies who had been called to his office in Spokane Valley by co-workers concerned about suicidal comments that if things fell apart with his wife, “he’d likely move back East and work for the police department he left where he still has close friends,” according to police reports.
Henderson worked as a public safety officer at Lincoln University. His mom, Margaret McGaughey, said he also worked as a police officer in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Although Henderson was a police officer and discussed his law enforcement background with deputies during the Monday suicide assessment, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said it had no bearing on the conclusion that he didn’t pose an immediate threat to himself or others. “It was his statements” about looking to the future, getting on with his life and wanting to be a father to his kids, Knezovich said. “I’ve been on many suicidal calls and they say the same things, and go on to be just fine.”
Henderson also told the deputies that his May 16 encounter with Spokane police following earlier concerns over suicide threats was a “wake-up call” to how bad he’d been treating his wife, according to police reports obtained by The Spokesman-Review. Spokane police officers confiscated a gun from him during that encounter and took Henderson for a mental health evaluation.
Henderson noted that doctors had declined an involuntary commitment following the mental exam in May, reports show. He also said counseling had helped him realize he needed to change and that he was working on being a better husband and father. He assured deputies that he would contact counselors or police if he grew despondent again but that he had no intention of harming himself or others, adding that “when people really wanted to harm themselves, they didn’t tell anyone.”
Additionally, he pointed out that Spokane police had taken away his gun during the May 16 encounter.
“At the time, he could have been just fine,” Knezovich said of Henderson’s emotional state during the Monday interview with deputies. “Who knows what happened during the 17 hours after we talked to him.”
Three hours after being questioned by deputies, Henderson showed up at the Spokane Police Department and retrieved his confiscated gun. The state Department of Social and Health Services had alerted the department that there’d been no involuntary mental commitment ordered, which meant police no longer had any legal authority to hold the firearm, officials said.
Spokane police still are investigating whether that was the gun used in Tuesday morning’s murder-suicide.
During the May encounter, police learned Henderson had access to other guns at the family home, according to police reports. His wife told officers she planned to take the weapons to her dad’s home; it’s unknown if that happened.
An emotional McGaughey said what happened to her son and daughter-in-law “was as much of a shock to us as anyone else.”
Henderson, an only child, moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, at 7 years old. He moved to Spokane about three years ago to keep his family together.
Sheena Henderson, also an only child, grew up in Seattle. The Henderson’s two children – a 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter – are staying with their maternal grandparents in Spokane.
“It was horrible and it can’t be undone,” McGaughey said. “Please don’t judge Chris. We cannot know what was in his heart. I grieve for the witnesses and her parents.”
David Wasson contributed to this report.