PA--Suzanne Detwiler was pleading for help from a Bucks County 911 dispatcher yesterday morning when a blast from her husband's shotgun ripped through her back, police said.
Witnessing the murder, the couple's 15-year-old son - who, moments earlier, had begged his father to leave his mother alone - loaded a 12-gauge shotgun.
"Get away from my mother," he screamed from the top of a raised deck as his father, Andrew Detwiler, bent over the bloody body of his 40-year-old wife in the backyard below. When the father raised his 20-gauge shotgun again, the son fired, said Bucks County District Attorney Diane E. Gibbons.
The first shot hit Detwiler, 44, in the right hip. The second hit him in the back as he tried to run away, she said. The shots killed Detwiler.
Dropping his gun in the house, the boy ran to a neighbor's home, where police found him in tears minutes later.
"A 15-year-old boy was forced to shoot his father the day before Father's Day," said Gibbons, adding that the boy would not be charged. "There is no question that he acted solely for the purpose of saving his mother."
The boy's name was withheld because of his age, as was the name of his 17-year-old brother, who also witnessed the murder. Their older sister was away at college when the shootings occurred.
Yesterday, there were still many questions officials could not answer regarding the case, such as a possible motive for the shooting.
What is known is that the Detwiler family moved to the quiet East Rockhill Township community of Colonials and ranchers in December after leaving the Souderton area, where the sons earned a reputation as strong wrestlers and the daughter was a star softball player.
"It's like the perfect life has just been blown up," Gibbons said.
Trouble apparently started last Sunday when a court officer arrived at the Detwilers' Greenleaf Circle home to serve a subpoena. Gibbons said someone in the home had been asked to testify in an assault case against a former Souderton wrestling coach. She said the case was unrelated to yesterday's shootings.
The officer heard a running car in the closed garage and called police, Gibbons said. They found Andrew Detwiler, an iron worker on disability, inside the car. Gibbons said it was unclear whether he was attempting suicide. Still, Andrew Detwiler voluntarily committed himself that day for psychiatric treatment at Grand View Hospital in nearby Perkasie, she said.
It was the first time police had been called to the home, said Chief David Mettin of the Pennridge Regional Police Department.
While her husband was hospitalized, Suzanne Detwiler, a real estate agent, had a family friend take away his weapons - two rifles, two shotguns and a handgun, Gibbons said.
On Wednesday, Andrew Detwiler signed himself out of the hospital. It was unclear whether he moved back home.
On Thursday, he told the family friend that he wanted the guns returned so he could sell them, but the friend wouldn't comply, Gibbons said.
Yesterday morning, Suzanne and Andrew Detwiler were at home together, and by all appearances, things were normal.
"They were sitting on their deck drinking coffee," said next-door neighbor Betty Miller, who greeted them with a wave about 6:45 a.m.
About three hours later, the Detwilers were arguing loudly enough to wake their sons.
Andrew Detwiler allegedly held a knife to his wife's neck as the boys came out of their bedrooms, Gibbons said. The boys, who are hunters, grabbed their unloaded shotguns in an attempt to scare their father out of the house, she said.
But Andrew Detwiler was able to wrest the gun from his younger son and get to the garage, where he kept ammunition. Suzanne Detwiler locked her husband in the garage and called 911.
Pleading for help, she told the dispatcher her husband was shooting his way out of the garage, Gibbons said.
Andrew Detwiler shot off the doorknob and charged after his wife. Still clutching the phone, Suzanne Detwiler ran out the back door and down the steps of the deck to the yard. Standing in the dining room with a clear view of his wife outside, Andrew Detwiler, a skillful hunter, fired the fatal shot through the window, Gibbons said. Meanwhile, his younger son loaded his shotgun.
The dispatcher heard the shot that silenced Suzanne Detwiler, then the voice of the younger boy screaming, "Get away from my mother," and to his older brother, "Call the police."
The gunshots startled neighbors in the quiet development, which abuts farm fields near Perkasie.
"I heard a gunshot, but it was muffled," said John Maurer, who lives three doors from the Detwiler family and was on his deck with his two young children at the time of the shootings. "Five or 10 minutes later, two more went off, and they were really loud.
"I said the to the kids, 'Let's go inside.' "
The Detwiler boys were with relatives from both sides of their family yesterday, Gibbons said.
Through their attorney, Gavin Laboski, family members declined to comment.
Calling the Detwilers "fine people" - down-to-earth, funny, and dedicated to their children, friend Robert E. Myers of Bryn Mawr said, "I am so sorry and so shocked."
Myers, whose daughter was a softball teammate of the Detwilers' daughter, also is a lawyer who was representing the family in an auto-accident case that was scheduled for trial at the end of the month.
"Their commitment to their family and children was 365 days a year," he said.
The Detwilers' was the second domestic-violence case to end in fatality in Bucks County in a week. On Thursday, Jeffrey Ogle of Richland Township, Bucks County, killed his estranged wife, Robin Shaffer, in Quakertown, then killed himself.
Earlier this month, Davis Weaver, a school guidance counselor suffering from depression, shot and killed his wife and two sons before killing himself in their Southern Chester County home.
The Detwiler case rattled even Gibbons, who said she had never seen anything like it in her 22 years as a prosecutor.
"This situation is more difficult to deal with," she said. "These two boys are completely shaken; they are stunned in a way I have never seen before. And they can't even go home."