MCMINNVILLE - The community of McMinnville was
visibly shaken after investigators discovered a family of six shot
to death in their home in an apparent murder-suicide Friday.
Robert Bryant is believed to have shot his wife and
four children - whose ages range from 9 to 15 - before turning the gun
on himself, said Yamhill County District Attorney Bradley C. Berry.
Robert Bryant was found dead in the living room, 37-year-old
Janet Ellen Bryant in the master bedroom, and their four children in
their beds, Berry said.
All had been killed by shotgun blasts.
"Evidence ... indicates that Mr. Robert Bryant killed
his wife and children and then took his own life," Berry said, although
a motive is not yet known.
"It was a horrible sight," Berry said.
The children last attended school on Feb. 22, and the
shootings are believed to have occurred the following day, he said.
Dead are the 37-year-old father, his 37-year-old wife,
Janet Ellen Bryant, as well as 15-year-old Clayton, 12-year-old Ethan,
10-year-old Ashley and 9-year-old Alissa Bryant.
Bryant was a self-employed landscaping contractor.
Family Leaves California After Being Shunned;
Bryant Parents Worried About Custody Battle
A former California neighbor, Albert Clary, said the
Bryants and their relatives were Jehovah's Witnesses.
According to Clary, Robert Bryant got into an
argument with a church leader over the Bible while he and his family
were still living in California.
The family was reportedly shunned by both other
Jehovah's witnesses as well as their own relatives following the
In fact, the Bryants were essentially kicked out of
the church three years ago, KATU News learned from an elder church
member of the California congregation to which the Bryants belonged.
"Mr. Bryant was expelled from the congregation of
Jehovah's Witnesses for conduct that was not in harmony with Bible
principles, and chose to move his family from the area away from friends
and family," said congregation elder Mark Messier Sr.
Also, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant were concerned that
relatives may seek custody of their four children, Messier said.
According to the church elder, relatives of the
Bryant family had already filed documents in an effort to seek custody.
The Bryants came to Oregon last summer to make a
fresh start, a former neighbor of the family told KATU News.
Two Jehovah's Witnesses who were at the McMinnville
church on Friday said they had never heard of the Bryants.
A study of California bankruptcy records indicates
that the family moved to McMinnville from Shingle Springs California,
where the father had a landscaping business called Bryant's Landscape
A Gruesome Discovery
Two Yamhill County sheriff's deputies were in the
vicinity of the Bryants' McMinnville home Thursday night when neighbors
approached them to express concern about the family.
Deputies spotted what appeared to be a body inside
the home. They obtained a search warrant and found all six bodies inside.
On Friday, deputies roped off the area around the
Bryants' manufactured home on a hillside outside McMinnville, a
prosperous town in the heart of Oregon's wine-growing country.
Detectives searched the grounds for clues but found
The home sits on about two acres of a rural
subdivision west of McMinnville, in hills at the foot of Oregon's Coast
Range and about 20 miles south of Portland.
"There Were No Warning Signs"
Neighbors told investigators the Bryants were
planning to build a larger house on the site.
"It was our understanding that they planned to build
a bigger home and then sell it...so he had a lot of ideas of what he was
going to do in the future, so this really surprised us," family
acquaintance Colin Armstrong told KATU News.
In a phone interview, Jeanna Wright told katu.com
that her daughter Jaden was friends with Ashley Bryant at Memorial
Elementary School. Mrs. Wright said her daughter had not seen Ashley in
Mrs. Mecker's class for two weeks and was concerned.
Karen Richey, assistant superintendent for the
McMinnville School District, said teachers had noticed the children's
absence from school and several attempts were made to contact the
"We had people knocking on the door several times,"
but no one ever answered the door, she said.
At first school officials weren't alarmed, because it
is not uncommon for students to be absent during the flu season, she
School officials say that a 10-day absence is not
unheard of, and there were no real warning signs to alert them that
anything may have been wrong at home.
Ashley's younger sister Alissa was a second grade
student at Memorial Elementary.
Ethan was a sixth grader at Patton Middle School, and
Clayton, the oldest, attended McMinnville High School.
The Children Were Well-Liked
Not surprisingly, this apparent murder-suicide has
saddened many who knew the Bryant children.
"Ethan Bryant was a very nice young man, he had many
friends. We are very saddened by this tragedy," Assistant Principal of
Patton Middle School, Mark Hyder told katu.com.
"Ethan was new to our district this year...he was a
very popular sixth-grader," said Hyder. "We're just trying to get
through this day supporting students and their families."
In a press conference this morning, McMinnville
Superintendent Elaine Taylor told the media, "the Memorial staff is
understandably very grief-stricken, the two teachers of the children...are
having a difficult time..."
It was clear that Taylor was struggling to maintain
Alissa and Ashley Bryant were described by Memorial
Elementary staff as "bright students who showed an interest in school."
McMinnville High School, Patton Middle School, and
Memorial Elementary all have extra counselors on site today to help
students and staff cope with their grief.
Bryants described as 'perfect family'
March 16, 2002
MCMINNVILLE, ORE. (AP) - Robert Bryant moved his
family to Oregon from California last year abruptly after becoming
estranged from his parents and siblings over church issues and going
Things started getting better when they arrived in
Now, friends and acquaintances are asking themselves
why Bryant would kill his wife Janet, their four children and himself,
destroying what one acquaintance called "a perfect family."
Yamhill County District Attorney Bradley Berry has
listed the deaths as murder-suicide and says they probably took place
about Feb. 23. They were not reported until suspicious neighbors alerted
sheriff's deputies late Thursday night.
Dead are Robert Arlie and Janet Ellen, both 37, and
children Clayton Keith, 15, Ethan Lance, 12, Ashley Rose, 10, and Alyssa
Investigators believe Robert Bryant killed the other
five with one shotgun blast each, then turned the gun on himself.
Neighbors in McMinnville and a family spokesman in
California say the fallout was due to undisclosed differences between
Bryant and the Jehovah's Witness church he had attended for years.
Jehovah's Witnesses in Shingle Springs had banned
Robert Bryant from the congregation there, an act that members call "disfellowship."
The action was taken, church elder Mark Messier said, for Bryant's "unrepentant
behavior" that violated church beliefs. Then his family apparently did
so as well.
RV park owner Howard Angell said Robert confided the
family had left a "big problem" in California, actually fleeing out of
fear in the middle of the night, the McMinnville News-Register reported.
Hermina Sampson of McMinnville met Robert Bryant soon
after he came to town last summer and was going door to door drumming up
work for his landscaping business. "He told me he had to get away from
the grandparents," she said. "The grandparents were kind of trying to
brainwash the children."
A former California neighbor, Albert Clary, said
Robert Bryant held Bible studies every Tuesday at his Shingle Springs
home. But he homeschooled his children and limited other interaction. "They
were sort of standoffish people," Clary said.
Berry said investigators may never learn why a man
described as mild-mannered and deeply religious would murder a wife and
children described as doting and devoted.
The family had installed a double-wide mobile home on
a two-acre lot west of town in December. The Bryants enrolled the
children in McMinnville public schools. They had planned to live in the
mobile home only long enough to build a new house.
Four weapons were found in the house including two
shotguns that Berry said were used in the crime.
Each family member died from a single blast at close
range. "One shotgun shell casing was accounted for and recovered at the
scene for each victim," Berry said.
The children had virtually perfect attendance records
through Friday, Feb. 22. But they had not been seen in class since.
Phone calls and checks at the house got no answer.
"They were just as nice a couple as you'd ever want
to meet," said Dennis Goecks, who sold the Bryants the two-acre lot last
"It's one of those things that just doesn't compute."
The family lived in Shingle Springs quietly and,
according to those who knew them were polite, but not outgoing. Brenda
Maranville rented the Bryants a house for four years, and then sold it
"They were wonderful renters, they were immaculate
caretakers, their kids were always so well behaved - it's like the
perfect family," she said.
Goecks said the Bryants bought the view lot west of
McMinnville from him last summer and had finished paying for it by the
end of the year.
Peggy Ojeda, office manager of the Dayton park where
the family stayed for a short time said the family arrived June 11.
One of his first steps was creation of Bryant's
Landscape & Maintenance, registered with the state at the RV park
"They were an extremely nice, very quiet family,"
Ojeda said. "They did everything together. "The children positively
drooled over their dad. They never seemed afraid of him."
They aggressively advertised the business, both in
the newspaper and with leaflets, and the business took off.
Robert presented a proposal to RV park owner Angell
to re-landscape the entire park, but phoned back in November to say he
had taken on too much other work.
Vern Skoog of Homes America had many dealings with
the family in connection with the double-wide home's purchase. He
remembers Robert as a "really pleasant guy." Skoog said, "He had gone
through some difficulties in California, including a business bankruptcy.
He was looking to make a fresh start."
The Bryants moved into the home just before Christmas.
On Jan. 13, 2000, the Bryants filed a Chapter 7
bankruptcy. They had unsecured debts of $57,000, mostly on credit cards.
They had a home valued at $175,000, but had little equity in it.
The bankruptcy freed the Bryants from the credit card
debt and some of the other debt.
By June, the Bryants had a fresh start, and set out
to rebuild their businesses and finances. They continued to pay off more
than $11,000 that they legally didn't have pay to Steve and Brenda
"We struggled a little bit to get financing in place,
but we were able to do it," Skoog said. He said he discounts financial
pressures as a reason for the murder-suicide. The Bryant's California
bankruptcy attorney agreed. "The bankruptcy took care of their financial
problems," said Julia Gibbs. "They probably should have been fine."