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DNA testing delays identification of Casa Grande fire victims

DNA testing delays identification of Casa Grande fire victims

062219 Casa Grande shooters home

A partially burned car sits in the driveway of the home at Casa Grande Mobile Estates, where a shooting and fire June 21 left five people dead. 

More than a month after a shooting and fire at a Santa Maria mobile home park left five dead, three bodies — presumed to be those of the suspect and two family members — have yet to be positively identified by medical examiners.

Law enforcement officials believe Claude Adams, 64, died June 21 alongside his wife, Sherry, 65, and son, Seth, 33, in an explosion and fire that capped off a deadly dispute at the Casa Grande Mobile Estates. According to police, Adams shot and killed two other residents — Kurt Bracke, 70, and Richard Hanen, 78 — before setting fire to his unit.

Medical examiners with the Santa Barbara County Coroner's Bureau have yet to positively identify the bodies, a process that requires assistance from the California Department of Justice due to the condition of the remains. Each body was pulled from the charred rubble of Adams' mobile home unit after the fire was extinguished.

"They were burned to an extent where they're not identifiable through fingerprints or facial recognition," Sgt. Jarrett Morris, of the Coroner's Bureau, said of the process.

In situations where conventional methods of identification are unavailable, medical examiners verify a decedent's identity using DNA comparisons with their living relatives. Morris said investigators work to locate and identify family members whose DNA could provide a baseline genetic profile for forensic analysts to compare and determine how likely it is that the two are related.

While the Coroner's Bureau has provided the California Department of Justice with DNA samples from the bodies and their presumed relatives, results may not be available for some time.

"It can be a matter of weeks to months for the Department of Justice," Morris said.

Santa Maria Police officials previously said an ongoing dispute — possibly over golf — and imminent eviction likely sparked the shooting and fire. Hanen and Bracke, who were shot in the clubhouse area, organized the mobile home park's Friday Golf Group.

Bracke, a native of Atchinson, Kansas, was described by his former wife as an avid golfer with a "cheerful and happy" personality.

Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga


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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.

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