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Police piece together events that led to double homicide

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Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2003 10:00 pm

Darrin Gunder shot and killed his estranged wife and her invalid mother at their Galt home Tuesday afternoon, then got in his truck and drove to Stockton, where he met with his parole officer an hour later, Galt police Lt. Ken Erickson said.

In the meantime, one of Gunder's twin teenage sons had arrived home to find his mother lying, unmoving in the living room of their Bay Landing Way home.

A day after the double homicide, details began to emerge Wednesday in the deaths of 36-year-old Lisa M. Gunder and her mother, 56-year-old Patricia Ann Hawthorne.

Darrin Gunder

Darrin Gunder, 37, was described by several people as quiet and unfriendly, in part because few people appeared to know him well. He had minor brushes with law enforcement until 1994, when he was charged with two counts of attempted murder in two separate crimes.

While he went to state prison, his wife raised their twin sons, family members said. They lived in a home in a quiet Galt neighborhood, across the street from an elementary school.

A few months ago, Patricia Hawthorne's medical problems were making it difficult to live alone, so she moved in with her daughter, who cared for her. Hawthorne, who graduated from Lodi High School, loved to read and watch TV, said her sister, Brenda Qualls.

Neighbors said there had been domestic disturbances at the home in the past, Tuesday's disturbance apparently escalated.

Tuesday's events

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Darrin Gunder checked his 16-year-old sons out of Galt High School and took them home, Erickson said.

Darrin Gunder was on the school's emergency information sheet for his twin sons and was allowed to pick them up from school, Principal Larry Tosta said Wednesday.

A vase of flowers rests along the walkway leading up to the house on Bay Landing Way in Galt where a double homicide occurred Tuesday afternoon. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

At the home, both parents got into an argument over the incident, and Lisa Gunder allegedly threatened to take legal action so that Darrin Gunder could not see the children, Erickson said.

About 10 minutes later, Darrin Gunder left the home, and one boy later went to attend an after-school function, Erickson said.

The second boy left to take care of personal business and saw his father driving alone in his white 1990 Ford F150 truck, two blocks from the Galt home, Erickson said.

"(The boy) stopped by a relative's home, called home, got no answer, panicked because he knew his dad was in the area and rushed home," Erickson said.

There the boy found his mother, and he then fled to a friend's house and called police.

Aftermath of a shooting

Officers arrived to find the back sliding glass door completely shattered, and shards of glass remained from a coffee table.

They later determined that Lisa Gunder died from a single gunshot to the back, while her mother died of one gunshot wound to the head, Erickson said.

Both women appeared to have been shot at close range, he said.

Lisa Gunder was found lying in the living room, and police found Hawthorne in a small room to the left of the front door where she appeared to be staying, Erickson said.

"Her daughter was taking care of her. She couldn't have gotten away if she wanted to," Qualls said.

Police found little blood in the home and could not immediately say if they thought a struggle took place.

Officers found weapons from inside the home, though Erickson declined to comment further.

Police also recovered two .22-caliber shell casings, along with unused bullets, Erickson said.

Those shell casings were manufactured by the same company as those later found in Darrin Gunder's clothing, Erickson said.

Suspect's past

As police were gathering at the home Tuesday evening and local TV stations were already carrying reports of the slayings, Darrin Gunder was meeting with his parole officer in Stockton.

"It was a routine contact, and there was nothing unusual to indicate something was wrong," Erickson said.

Darrin Gunder was released on parole in September 2001 after serving time in state prison for attempted murder, according to the California Department of Corrections.

In May 1994, a 60-year-old man was stabbed in the back twice by a man in midtown Sacramento. An hour later, a 45-year-old Citrus Heights woman was taking a morning walk when a man pulled up and began punching, stabbing and kicking her.

Police identified the suspect in both crimes as Darrin Gunder.

At the time of his arrest, Gunder allegedly told police that he stabbed the man "because (he) is an ethnic minority, and this country is being taken over by minorities."

Gunder was using an insanity defense, but in 1995 he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, with an enhancement alleging that it was a hate crime because the woman was Indian. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a second attempted murder charge and a hate crime enhancement.

Criminal history

Darrin Gunder was sentenced to 14 years in state prison, but he was paroled a little more than six years later.

Though some prison inmates must go before a parole board in an effort to be released, Darrin Gunder had served his time and was released, said CDC spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

"If an inmate participates in a work assignment, some type of job or a substance abuse program, those are all ways they can get credit," she said.

Prior to his 1994 arrest, Darrin Gunder had several misdemeanor cases in San Joaquin County, including vandalism, driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license.

In 1991, he was ordered not to "annoy, harass, threaten or strike Lisa Gunder" for three years, as part of his probation for vandalism, according to court records.

Darrin Gunder

Neighbors near his Stockton home knew little about him, though they said his relatives are good, church-going people.

"He stayed in the house - he didn't talk to anyone," said Alejandro Rubio, who lives across the street. "He never came over to socialize."

Another neighbor across the street, Ron Neely, added, "I never had a conversation with the man in six months."

Darrin Gunder lived on the same property with his mother, grandmother and uncle in an older, small, yellow house off Highway 99 in Stockton's southeast corner.

"We feel really, really sorry that this happened," said a woman who declined to give her name, but said she was the sister of Gunder's mother.

His mother, who also declined to state her name but was identified by a neighbor as Donna, said that her son's arrest was "beyond belief."

The neighborhood consists of one street, Sunny Road, southeast of the Highway 99-Arch Road exit. It has a rural feel with a mixture of older houses and several mobile homes. Dogs were barking in all directions Wednesday afternoon.

"It is a pretty quiet street," Rubio said. "I don't see any problems."

But on Tuesday evening, San Joaquin County Sheriff's deputies were watching the yellow house after receiving word of the shootings. They were waiting for more deputies to arrive when Darrin Gunder got in his truck and left, Erickson said.

At 7:03 p.m., deputies stopped him on March Lane near Highway 99.

"When his vehicle was stopped, we recovered the .22 semi-automatic pistol that was in a nylon pouch under the driver's seat," Erickson said.

In addition to the rounds of ammunition in his pocket, officials also found a "concealable leather holster in the small of his back that would hold a small firearm," Erickson said.

As a parolee and a convicted felon, Darrin Gunder is not legally allowed to own or possess firearms.

Darrin Gunder was taken into custody without incident and later arrested on suspicion of two counts of murder. He is expected to be arraigned in Sacramento County Superior Court this afternoon.

Galt reacts

On Wednesday, Galt residents were still reeling from the incident, which marked the second and third fatal shootings since Friday.

An armed robber was shot and killed Friday at Compadres Market on C Street after he and an accomplice attempted to hold up the store. The clerk was shot in the back but has since been released from the hospital, and police do not expect him to be charged.

As neighbors stood beyond yellow crime tape for hours Tuesday evening, several asked what was happening to their town.

One teenager even wondered aloud if he should get a gun for protection.

The shootings were not related, and police say the timing is only coincidental.

Erickson acknowledged that police staffing is stretched because of the recent events, but officers are still able to handle all calls, he said.

"Very tragic incidents have happened in the past week. The community is shocked and is grieving at this time, as well as the department," Erickson said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Galt.

Schools respond

At Galt High School on Wednesday, news of the killings came quickly. And the school had a plan of action for just such tragedies, said Laurie Bambas, an outreach consultant at the school.

Staff members were sent e-mails early Wednesday morning by Tosta, informing them of the killings and telling teachers that students were to be excused from class if they were upset.

By 2:30 p.m., Bambas had spoken with about 25 students, most of them during the first four hours of school.

"This is something that happens in other places and not their own town," Bambas said. "This has really hit hard here. There is a lot of disbelief and sadness on the students' part."

One of the twins arrived at school on Wednesday. He spoke with teachers and counselors, all of whom declined to give specifics regarding his mood. His brother chose to stay away.

"It's tough right now," Bambas said. "He's here because staying within the normal routine of a school day is probably very good for him."

Many of the students who knew the twins were emotional, but did not want to show their sadness in front of the brothers - they wanted to put forth a strong face, she said.

"If you cry, it's part of being human and showing your emotions," Bambas said she told the students.

Students move on

Both brothers took auto shop in the morning with Randy McNealy, whose classroom was closed and locked after school Wednesday.

The twins also took a child care class together, and their teacher, Anne Millet, had spoken with the twin who attended school Wednesday. She declined to talk about what he said or what his mood was like, not wanting to say anything that might hurt him further, Millet said.

The twins were staying with their grandfather and planned to continue to attend Galt High, Bambas said. She was planning to visit the family later Wednesday to see how she could help them.

Students are also planning on setting up a relief account for the family and the twins, Bambas said.

Meanwhile at Marengo Ranch Elementary School, across the street from where the shootings took place, the atmosphere was quiet Wednesday morning.

Principal Terry Metzger said she had announced on the school's public address system that there had been a nearby tragedy and the teachers then talked to students about what had occurred. The main purpose was to distill rumors and to ensure that the students felt safe at their school.

About 20 students had been playing in the school yard during an after-school program when police began arriving at the house Tuesday afternoon, Metzger said.

"I don't think they heard or saw anything," Metzger said, who added that the students were taken inside a classroom soon after the police arrived.

Friends, family mourn

Miles away, Kim Burson, who was senior class president when Lisa Gunder graduated from Galt High School in 1986, expressed condolences.

Though she didn't remember Lisa Gunder well, Burson did recall that her classmate was "extremely sweet and very sensitive," she wrote in an e-mail.

Lisa Gunder lived on Sunset Drive in Galt with her father and younger brother in the 1970s. Her father worked hard to support his children, recalled Kelly Allen, who baby-sat them.

"I fed them, cooked dinner for them and made them clean their rooms," Allen said. "They were a pretty nice family."

Allen said she wasn't close friends with Lisa Gunder in later years, but they were cordial whenever they ran into each other, which they often did at the store where they'd catch up on each other's lives.

"I've seen her beat up a few times - a black eye," Allen said. "You never ask questions like that."

Allen said she last saw Lisa and Darrin Gunder four or five months ago while renting a video where Allen works.

"Lisa tried to get away from him," she said. "She was dating another gentleman. It seemed like she was trying to put her life back together."

The house on Bay Landing Way was silent Wednesday, and no answering machine came on when the telephone rang.

The crime tape was gone, a vase of flowers in its place.

Most people were stunned by the Tuesday events and still did not know what to think or say.

"What can you do? You just kind of hang in limbo and pray for the mixed up mind that did it," Qualls said.

News-Sentinel staff writers Alejandro Lazo, Ross Farrow and Ripley Howe, and the Scripps-McClatchy Western Service contributed to this article.

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