Officials investigate Hubbard fire as murder suicide
Investigators say the man and three children died of gunshot wounds, woman died of blunt force trauma to the head, but their identifies are not yet confirmed
*UPDATED 2:55 p.m. Jan. 6*
Investigators have recovered the remains of five individuals inside the Hubbard-area residence that was the site of Tuesday's fire.
The remains were confirmed to be of one adult male, one adult female and three children. The medical examiner has determined that the adult male and three children died of a single gunshot wounds and the adult female died of blunt force trauma to the head.
It is still unconfirmed whether the remains are of the Kroekers, the family that lived on the property.
"Although the remains appear consistent with that of the Kroeker family, confirmation of identity is made through the medical examiner," a Marion County Sheriff's Department statement released this afternoon read.
Officials say this is an active homicide investigation, focusing specifically on murder/suicide. Officials say the fire was intentionally set, as were two separate fires to two other buildings on the property located in the 18000 block of Fobert Road east of Hubbard.
"There was fire set to three different buildings," Lt. Chris Baldridge, PIO with the sheriff's office, said, noting that the buildings are too far apart for the fire to have spread. "Right now it's a criminal investigation."
Responders arrived on scene around 3 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3 to discover all three buildings ablaze. Conditions were complicated due to the weather, power lines and the need to bring in water tenders. In all, seven agencies responded with nine water tenders. The residence continued to smolder throughout the day Tuesday, and firefighters had to work through Wednesday morning to put out hot spots.
Amid the firefighting, one body was discovered inside the residence, but it wasn't until investigators were able to enter the building for the first time Wednesday morning that other bodies were there.
Whereabouts of the family — Keith and Erin Kroeker, 42 and 39, respectively, and their three children, 10-year-old twin boys and a 7-year-old girl — have been unknown, but extended family members feared the worst.
Marion County Sheriff's Office officials said they are not prepared to comment on any details of the investigation, but they do not believe there is any immediate danger to the public. "First and foremost I extend my condolences to the Kroeker family," Sheriff Jason Myers said in a press release. "While this investigation is not yet complete, I would like to thank and recognize the 100 plus first responders, investigators and support personnel from various local, state and federal agencies who continue to work tirelessly during this difficult and complex investigation."
Now, friends and family are trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Keith Kroeker's father, Mike Kroeker, told KOIN 6 News (a media partner of Woodburn Independent) Wednesday that if this fire was intentionally set, he doesn't know who could be responsible.
"I have no idea — Keith and Erin had no enemies in this world," Mike Kroeker told KOIN. "They were all liked by all the neighbors. The kids were well adjusted at school."
Lincoln Elementary School, where all three children attended and where their mother frequently volunteered, has crisis counselors on hand. Woodburn Superintendent Chuck Ransom confirmed that Luke and Braedon Kroeker attended fifth grade and 7-year-old Leia attended second grade at the school. The district has a crisis team on standby.
"We let the staff know; we suspect the worst but there's nothing we can say at this time," Ransom said on Wednesday. "Regardless, it's a tragedy, we don't know the extent of that, but it will require a great deal of healing for the school community."
Also assisting with the healing process is the family's congregation, Mid Valley Community Church, which has its doors open to members who want to come together and seek comfort.
"We're just stunned," Pastor Jesse Hamberger said Thursday. "We're just kind of walking in the wake of disbelief that this could happen, that somebody would do this."
Hamberger said that Keith Kroeker was an elder in the church, and they have been planning a trip to their mission in Nicaragua. He fondly recalled the first time Keith went down there to help build a church when his hand tools disappeared. Although they were eventually found or replaced, the next trip, he took 20 screwdrivers instead of just one.
"He brought them all and then gave them away," Hamberger laughed. "He was just prepared. He just loved those guys who were struggling on a whole other level of poverty that we can't comprehend. That was something significant in his heart — and Erin's."
Erin Kroeker was also active in the church, serving as a pianist to the children's choir. The children also attended Sunday school.
"I'm sitting here looking at projects that the twin boys made of shields — shields of faith that they made in one of their classes — and I think, this was a family that moved forward and worked hard toward what is right and what is good," Hamberger said. "They were committed to Christ. That they are gone is cause for us to look within and identify how deep is our commitment."
While it's hard to comprehend someone intentionally setting the fires on the Kroeker property, Hamberger said there is comfort in each other.
"The amazing thing is I'm seeing such strength and love and power exchanged from one person to another in the congregation," he said.
Hamberger said memorial service plans are in the works. To contribute monetary donations toward a funeral service, make a check out to The Kroeker Family, c/o Mid Valley Community Church, 591 Gatch St., Woodburn 97071, or call the church at 503-981-1911.
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