Authorities trying to rescue a family begging for help after their 26-year-old son opened fire in their Phoenix home arrived to a chaotic crime scene they could not prepare for.
The shooter ignited a raging fire and was still inside. Officers donned breathing gear, grabbed fire hoses and ran in, hoping to save lives. They pulled out two victims, but they had to make a hasty retreat as bullets flew their way.
The violence played out in a cul-de-sac of quiet, suburban family homes Tuesday morning. Authorities eventually found Vic Buckner, 50, Kimberly Buckner, 49, and their 18-year-old daughter, Kaitlin Buckner, who were all pronounced dead. A 6-year-old daughter, Emma, later died at a hospital.
The shooter was the couple’s son, Alex Arthur Buckner, who was fatally shot by police, Sgt. Trent Crump said.
Three officers were treated for smoke inhalation.
The chaos woke up residents in surrounding houses, forcing some to evacuate just before dawn.
Yolanda Strayhand, who lives behind the burned home, said her elderly mother woke her up after hearing gunfire. Strayhand went outside and said her front yard looked like a movie scene, with lights and noise from several fire engines, SWAT officers and a helicopter.
“We were approached by a lady firefighter who said, ‘There’s a live shooter,’ ” Strayhand said.
She got a glimpse of the back of the home engulfed in flames.
“Every room on the top floor was lit, and they were pointing guns toward the basement,” she said.
An officer came by and told her to leave. Strayhand gathered clothes, medications and her mother’s walker, and they both walked down the street.
The ordeal began shortly before 5 a.m. when Kaitlin Buckner called 911, pleading for help and saying that her brother had shot her, Crump said. The first officers on scene ran into the burning house because they felt they had to act quickly.
“You have people that need you to come and rescue them, and you now have not only a fire, but somebody who’s also firing a gun in there,” the police sergeant said.
Authorities pulled out two victims, then a tactical team stormed in 45 minutes later when the gunfire stopped and shot the gunman, Crump said.
Officers were looking for the rest of the victims, but they had to leave because the fire reignited in the attic, sending flames through a ceiling. They took Alex Buckner’s body with them.
After the fire was extinguished, they found the other victims.
Investigators will likely be gathering evidence at the burned home into the night, Crump said. The police have no record of ever having been called to the house.
A next-door neighbor said the family had lived in the home for about two years after moving from Oklahoma. James Graham said he was not close to his neighbors, but they chatted occasionally and never mentioned any problems.
Family members told investigators that Alex Buckner, who lived in the home, had received treatment in Oklahoma for drug abuse.
“They knew that there was some drug abuse in the past,” Crump said. “They didn’t suspect this now and this was completely out of character and they did not see this coming.”
All the victims had gunshot wounds, but a medical examiner will determine their causes of death, authorities said.
Police said they believe the gun used belonged to Vic Buckner.
Sammie Evans, who lives across the street, said Emma Buckner was learning how to write and would show Evans notes she had written. They would chat a bit before the girl went back to her house.
“I used to call her Miss America. She was so sweet,” Evans said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton was at the scene after crews tamped down the fire.
“This is what heroes look like,” he said of police and firefighters. “Their professionalism and their heroism under the worst possible conditions has truly blown me away.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Terry Tang and Paul Davenport