In the well-to-do suburban setting of Sugar Land, Texas, the Whitakers presented the picture of a perfect family.
Houston natives Kent and Tricia Whitaker had met in their 20s on a blind date, and after marriage they settled in the smaller community about 20 miles outside of the city to raise their two sons, Bart and Kevin.
Tricia taught in elementary school; Kent worked as an executive in her family’s construction business. The parents made faith a cornerstone of their household, and while Bart was a slightly reluctant participant in church, his younger brother, Kevin, stood out with his compassion toward others and an outgoing personality that made him everybody’s best friend.
But the outwardly close-knit family cheered Bart’s achievements too. He aspired to a career in criminal justice, starting his college studies at Baylor and then transferring to Sam Houston State University.
On the cusp of his graduation, Bart invited his parents and little brother out for dinner on Dec. 10, 2003, to celebrate.
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But the happy occassion took a horrific turn when the family returned home.
“Kevin opened the door and he stepped inside. There was a loud noise,” dad Kent recalls in Monday night’s episode of People Magazine Investigates. (An exclusive clip of the show, entitled “Fatal Family Secrets,” is shown above.)
“Tricia was right behind him and said ‘Oh no,’ and there was another loud noise,” Kent says. “So I stepped to the door to look inside to see what was happening, and there was a man standing there, maybe six or seven feet away is all, in a ski mask, and I was hit hard in the shoulder, and I fell back on the front porch.”
“That was when I realized that those shots had been gunshots,” he says.
After hearing a fourth blast, “I thought, ‘My god, he’s shot all of us.’ And I called out to each of the family, and there was silence,” Kent says.
The gunfire killed Kevin, 19, at the scene; Kent’s wife of 28 years, Tricia, 51, died during transport to the hospital.
Kent and his surviving son were both wounded in the attack. For months, they leaned on each other for emotional support.
Meanwhile, investigators came upon clues that challenged their earlier theory that the fatal shootings stemmed from a interrupted burglary — and told Kent his life still might be in danger.
People Magazine Investigates: Fatal Family Secrets airs Monday, Jan. 7 (10 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery.