Warwick Police were dispatched to 75 Kenway St. in the Oakland Beach section of the city around 5 a.m. on Saturday.
It didn’t take them long to piece together what happened. Three adults inside suffered fatal gunshot wounds and two children fled the house by an upstairs window. One of the children stayed on the roof outside their dormer window; the other ran to a neighbor’s to call police.
So far, police have said it looks like an ex-boyfriend of the boys’ mother, who was identified as John Oliveira, 45, of 11 Youngs Ave. in West Warwick, broke into the house around 5 a.m. and shot Carla Bowen, 47, multiple times, then shot her house guest, identified as Christopher Butler, 52, of Warwick multiple times and then turned the pistol on himself. The victims and the shooter succumbed to their injuries at the scene. The firearm was recovered at the scene by WPD. The investigation will continue with the Warwick Police Department and the Medical Examiner’s Office.
In the meantime, the two boys are reportedly staying with neighbors as the police sort the circumstances surrounding the incident. The homicide and suicide generated prompt responses from women’s advocates, including this from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who are concerned about the short- and long-term effects of domestic violence on the children of victims, particularly children who have witnessed it.
“This case in particular highlights why we are fighting to restore state budget cuts that have been proposed to the services for children who witness domestic violence,” said a press release signed by Judith Earle, executive director of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, and Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“In 2011, police in Rhode Island responded to 2,092 domestic violence calls where children were present,” they wrote, “and more than half of the people staying in domestic violence shelters and transitional housing in 2012 were children. This is why it is critical that members and leadership within the Rhode Island General Assembly restore funding for essential services for children who witness domestic violence.”
Police have declined to identify the minor boys. Police say they have the pistol that was used in the shooting, identified as a Sig Sauer 9 mm semiautomatic. They also reported that they found a key in the suspect’s possession that may have allowed him to enter the house without alerting the occupants.
The investigation extended to 11 Youngs Ave., where Oliveira lived with his parents, according to Nelson, and where detectives were searching for evidence of a motive and other information about what was going on before the crime. The Coalition press release indicated that there was some record of past abuse.
“Given the previous nature of Oliveira and Bowen’s relationship, we must be sure to refer to this murder-suicide as what it is: the final act of domestic violence, for murder is the ultimate expression of the abuser’s need to control his partner’s behavior and suicide ensures that the abuser cannot be held accountable.”
Police have been less specific about Christopher Butler’s relationship with Bowen and will say only that he was staying at the house.
Meanwhile, West Warwick Police cordoned off a home on Youngs Avenue in their town as part of the investigation. Warwick Deputy Chief Michael Babula described the West Warwick part as peripheral and said yesterday that,
“We have no reason to assume that there was any reason other than domestic for this [shooting].”