By Reggie Ellis
The death of Exeter Police Officer Rick Grimsley's ex-wife has been ruled a murder-suicide by investigators.
The East Oregonian newspaper reported Friday that forensic analysis of the bodies by the state medical examiner, on-scene analysis by the Oregon State Police and subsequent investigation details all confirmed the murder-suicide of Katherine Anne Grimsley, 29, and Donna Lea Chavez, 29, both of Pendleton, Ore., according to a statement released by Umatilla County District Attorney Chris Brauer.
According to the East Oregonian, witnesses claim to have seen the two women walking together shortly before gunshots were heard around 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 20 on Northwest A Avenue, southwest of Pendleton's airport, an industrial district away from any homes or businesses. A 16-year-old boy working at General Aviation Services nearby heard the gunshots and came out to discover the bodies within arm's length of one another and a gun nearby.
The autopsies on the bodies were performed Thursday morning in Portland, Ore. Chavez fired a .357-caliber revolver at close range shooting Grimsley four times, one fatally through the heart and also in her side and back. After shooting Grimsley, Chavez put the gun to her own temple and fired once, killing herself instantly, the press release said.
Chavez and Grimsley had shared a residence but their friendship had became strained within the last week, according to Brauer.
"But what caused it to go awry is not real clear at this point," Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts told the Fresno Bee. "Both of the women were well-known in the area,” he said. "We've received phone calls nonstop since the day it happened. It's pretty tragic." He said it is unclear as to what kind of relationship the two women had.
Chavez used a revolver associated with her family. Police found letters from Chavez to family and friends, as well as the gun's holster, in her desk where she worked at CAPECO. Those letters, dated the same day as the shootings, indicated that Chavez intended to end her own life, although they made no mention of Grimsley, Brauer said.
Katherine Grimsley and Rick Grimsley were separated in 1999, when she and their two sons -- Brandon, 11, and Joshua, 7, -- moved to Pendleton, a small close-knit community of about 17,000 people located about 200 miles east of Portland. Anna Grimsley, the Exeter officer's current wife, said after Rick found out about his ex-wife's death at 6 p.m. on April 20, they immediately left for Oregon to get his two sons, who were in school when the killing happened, and bring them back to live with them in Exeter.
"Rick is doing OK," Anna said. "We are really glad the kids were not involved and are OK."
Anna said she and Rick were on good terms with Grimsley and spoke over the phone every other Sunday. She said Grimsley kept in touch with much of Rick's family and always sent photographs of the boys.
"I talked to her a lot about what the boys like to eat and the kinds of things they like to do whenever they would come visit," Anna said.
She said Brandon seems to understand most of what has happened but is very quiet. His younger brother, Joshua, has been more confused.
"He doesn't seem to understand and asks questions like, 'What is a funeral?'" Anna said. "How do you answer that question with something like this?"
Rick and Anna Grimsley have a 5-year-old daughter, Vanessa. Anna said they will all begin family counseling sessions to learn how to cope with the situation. She said the boys will not begin school here in Exeter until Monday, after the Friday funeral for Katherine which will be held in Sacramento where her mother and sister live. The couple is still living in a small home off Firebaugh Avenue awaiting the completion of their new 2,036 square-foot, four bedroom, two bathroom home near Schroth Park on Vine Street. The home is being more than 90 percent funded by contractor donations of material and labor and the more than $80,000 that countless individuals and organizations had donated to the Grimsleys following the wreck that severed both of his legs on Sept. 1, 2002. That night, Rick and a police trainee made a traffic stop along Highway 65 near Firebaugh Avenue. While getting some paperwork out of the trunk of the patrol car, a drunken driver slammed into the rear of the car, pinning Rick in between and severed both of his legs near the knee.
The 21-year-old man who hit Rick, Aaron Estrada Jr. of Lindsay, pleaded guilty to a charge of drunken driving causing great bodily injury, and he was sentenced to eight years in prison on Feb. 13, 2003.
Rick spent several weeks in a coma and then remained in the intensive care unit for more than a month recuperating from his injuries and many surgeries. Rick, who uses a wheelchair, returned to duty in February 2003 doing follow up calls on investigations and working with the department’s reserve unit. The home will be a state-of-the-art handicap accessible home including wider hallways and doorways, lower cabinets, a roll-in shower and front loading appliances that Rick can access while in his wheelchair.
Rick has also done a lot of traveling throughout and outside of Tulare County, speaking to high school students and community service organizations about drinking and driving.