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A couple and four children found dead in their burning South Dakota home had been shot in an apparent murder-suicide, officials said Monday.
Firefighters and police called to the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis near Platte, South Dakota, on Sept. 17 found the house engulfed in flames. The victims were unidentifiable when they were pulled from the ruins.
The State Attorney General's office said Monday that preliminary autopsy results identified cause of death for Nicole Westerhuis and her children Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael as "homicide by shotgun."
Scott Westerhuis's cause of death was "shotgun wound with manner of death as suspected suicide," it added in a statement.
“We have experienced the tragic loss of an entire family including young children that has affected an entire community,” Attorney General Matry Jackley said. “Based on evidence of foul play continuing to be uncovered, law enforcement remains committed to a complete and thorough investigation.”
Neighbor Marcus King told NBC News station KDLT that he had watched the home burn to the ground and said the family was "the best neighbors you could have.”
“It’s devastating," King said. "When you lose the whole family, all six of them. you can’t put your mind around it."
King told KDLT that he had known Scott Westerhuis since he was a little boy, watched him grow up and start a family of his own.
They were an “ambitious, young family,” he said. “Two boys, older boys, and two young girls that always traveled through my yard, always polite."
The Platte-Geddes school district also paid tribute to the family, saying they were a big part of the community who would be “truly missed” in a Facebook post.
“School counselors, ministerial association members, youth group leaders and parents were on hand to provide support to our students during this tragic event,” they said.