A college fundraising official fatally shot his niece and her 4-year-old son Wednesday in their upscale Zionsville, Indiana, home before turning the gun on himself hours later at an Indianapolis hotel, a sheriff’s official tells PEOPLE.
Katherine Janet Giehll, 31, and her son, Raymond Peter Giehll IV, were discovered shot in their home in Zionsville, about 18 miles north of Indianapolis, after police were called to the home about 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday, Boone County Sgt. Chris Burcham tells PEOPLE.
“This is a very, very tragic event,” Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen said during a media briefing. “In my 32 years of law enforcement I have never witnessed a crime so heinous and heartbreaking.”
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On Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement authorities announced that Giehll’s uncle, Lucius Oliver Hamilton III, 61, was found dead at the Hilton Garden Inn from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“He cowardly took his life instead of choosing to face justice for his actions,” Neilsen said.
Victim Killed on Her Birthday, Says Friend
Patti Freeman Dorson said she met Giehll nine years ago when she brought her dog to the veterinarian’s office where Giehll worked as a vet tech. Giehll later worked for Dorson as a dog sitter.
“She was smart and capable and she was absolutely spectacular with dogs,” Dorson says. She loved animals so much that she was considering returning to school to become a vet, Dorson says.
Describing her as “a cheerful, exuberant person,” Dorson said Giehll also doted on her young son. “She was incredibly warm, but absolutely committed to her son,” she says.
Dorson said today was Giehll’s birthday. “It’s so awful and tragic to begin with, and then for this to happen today,” she says.
Motive Was Financial Gain, Authorities Say
According to a statement from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, “Our preliminary investigation leads us to believe that the motive for this double homicide was strictly for financial gain, from a family trust. The details of the trust are still under investigation but at this time investigators believe there is no other motive.”
Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen said, “I think there are millions of dollars involved here,” according to the Associated Press. He added, “It’s a lingering issue that has been going on for the last few years.”
Giehll’s father, Russell Hamilton, who died in 2012, was the brother of the assailant, Lucius Hamilton, according to his obituary. Russell Hamilton was a sergeant for 27 years with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, Reserve Division, a voluntary position, and also worked for 20 years at First Investors Cooperation, according to his obituary.
Burcham said Katherine Giehll had a trust fund established by her father, “and there was a contentious relationship over the past three years between Katherine and her uncle,” he tells PEOPLE. “The relationship wasn’t good between the family.”
Both Giehll and her son were beneficiaries of the trust fund, he says. “That may be the reason he included [Raymond] in the actions today,” Burcham says.
No suicide note was found, Burcham tells PEOPLE.
Hamilton was employed at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a private, all-male college. After the shooting, the school cancelled classes and went on lockdown.
Hamilton was last seen on campus Wednesday morning and was driving a van with Wabash College license plates, according to Sgt. John Perrine of the Indiana State Police.
The college lists Hamilton as a 1976 graduate of the school who works in the Alumni office as a Senior Major Gifts Officer. School representatives have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.