Investigators say they don’t know what led Iraq war vet to kill pregnant wife, daughter, self

By Todd Richmond, AP
Friday, August 20, 2010

Police look for why vet killed family, self

MADISON, Wis. — An Iraq war veteran who police say shot and killed his pregnant wife and young daughter before turning the gun on himself left behind no clues to explain what might have prompted the bloodshed, investigators say.

There was no note and no evidence that there had been trouble between 23-year-old Matthew Magdzas and his wife, 26-year-old April Oles-Magdzas, before the shootings, detectives said.

Oles-Magdzas’ mother found the bodies of the couple, their 13-month-old daughter, Lila, and their three dogs on Wednesday — the same day Oles-Magdzas was set to deliver her second daughter, friends said.

Detectives said they haven’t found any evidence the couple was having money issues or was overly stressed by the pending birth of their daughter. They apparently had been faithful to each other, investigators said, adding they had no reports of any domestic disputes between them.

“Unfortunately, sometimes in these things, if they don’t leave a note, we don’t definitely have a why. (It’s) tough for the family, tough for the friends, tough for the community,” said Superior Police Capt. Chad La Lor.

La Lor said investigators plan to subpoena Magdzas’ military medical records to see if he had complained of or been treated for signs of post traumatic stress disorder.

Lt. Col. Jackie Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin National Guard, said the military can not disclose Magdzas’ health records to the public.

Magdzas enlisted in the National Guard during the summer of 2004, between his junior and senior years in high school, said Guthrie, a Wisconsin National Guard spokeswoman. He had completed his training by October 2005 and was assigned to the Superior-based 950th Engineer Company.

He volunteered to deploy overseas with the Milwaukee-based 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment in 2006. The unit was tasked with protecting convoys moving from Kuwait into northern Iraq, Guthrie said.

He served as a vehicle gunner and was involved in a small-arms battle in Iraq in November 2006, she said. She did not know exactly where the battle took place. His deployment ended in 2007.

After returning to Wisconsin, Magdzas went to work as a firearms instructor for Better Defense, a shooting school that provides classes in northern Wisconsin and southern Minnesota. According to his profile on the school’s website, Magdzas began shooting before he was 12 years old. It also said he received the Purple Heart, an award given to U.S. military personnel wounded or killed in battle. Guthrie said there is no record he received the honor.

The school’s chief executive officer and master instructor, Gary Bjergo, did not respond to phone messages Thursday.

Oles-Magdzas attended Carlton High School in Carlton, Minn. Her science teacher, Deb Saunders, described her as an artistic, “sparkly” young lady who was into dancing and cheerleading. She often stopped sad-looking students in the halls to ask them what was wrong, Saunders said.

Tessa Buscko, 36, of Duluth, Minn., said she worked with Oles-Magdzas, and briefly with Magdzas, at Community Connections, a Duluth foster care facility for people with brain injuries. Oles-Magdzas had recently left the home, however, to take a job as an assistant cheerleading coach at Duluth East High School.

“April’s passion for working with young people was evident to everyone that came into contact with her,” the school’s activities director, Shawn Roed, said in a statement. “She will be sadly missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.”

Buscko said Oles-Magdzas was due to give birth by C-section the day her body was found. She said Oles-Magdzas planned to name the baby Anna.

She didn’t know what could have driven Magdzas to wipe out his family.

“He must have had a flashback or something. I don’t know. That’s crazy. Matt doesn’t seem like that type of person,” Buscko said. “The only thing people can think of is coming back from the war and trying to live a normal life.”

Investigators recovered a 9-millimeter handgun in the house they believe Magdzas used. They also discovered what appeared to be a bomb in a backpack in the house, but explosives experts later determined it likely wasn’t and destroyed it.

“Wow, he must have really …” Buscko said, trailing off. “It’s just sad all the way around.”

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