by Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First
As published in the Caledonian-Record
Authorities say they are investigating the apparent suicide of a Brownington man, who was found dead several days after Vermont State Police searched his residence in connection with a recent homicide in Wheelock.
Gary Larocque, 40, was found dead in a wooded area on Chapdelaine Road on Tuesday, officials said.
Gunnar Watson, 27, of Wheelock, a co-worker at Lucas Tree Experts, was gunned down at his residence in Wheelock on Oct. 16, state police said. Watson had been a work foreman for two years for Lucas, according to his obituary.
Watson died from a single shot to the torso at his residence at 5953 Vermont 16 about 6 a.m. Oct. 16 as he prepared to go to work, state police have said. He also served as a sergeant in the Vermont Army National Guard and was a team leader in a sniper section of C Troop, his obituary said.
Vermont State Police have said little about Larocquqe’s death. The one VSP news release issued in the case never included his name and only said the incident was classified as “a non-suspicious death” by detectives but never elaborated. They maintained in the release that the death “is not considered criminal in nature.”
Watson’s wife, Aubrie St. Louis, 33, called 911 to report her husband had been shot in the chest at their residence, police said. The responding EMS personnel from Glover and Hardwick and state troopers found Watson inside, and he was dead, police said.
State Police Detective Sgt. James Vooris of the Major Crime Unit later applied for several search warrants on Oct. 16, Oct. 19 and Oct. 23 related to Watson’s death, according to Vermont Superior Court Judge Michael R. Kainen.
Kainen, a former state prosecutor, did rule that part of the court affidavits filed by Vooris to get the search warrants must be released to the public.
Caledonia County State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski had moved during an Oct. 31 court hearing to seal the public records about the various search warrants, Judge Kainen said in court papers.
It appears nobody from the public was notified of the hearing to have a chance to argue against sealing the court records.
The unannounced hearing came on the same day that Larocque’s death was reported about 10:40 a.m. on Oct. 27 in Brownington, records show.
State Police have offered few public comments when asked about the large presence of detectives and crime scene technicians that day at the two-story home and surrounding property on Chapdelaine Road off Hinman Settler Road in the rural Orleans County town.
Investigators are trying to learn more about the fatal shooting of Watson as he re-entered the doorway of his single-story tan home with blue shutters.
The Caledonian Record has reported Watson had started his vehicle and had gone back in the front door when he was apparently shot from a hidden location on Oct. 16. Court records now confirm the report.
Veteran Detective Sgt. Lyle Decker responded to the scene and found a bullet hole through the front door. Watson was getting ready for work, went outside to start his work truck and moved it closer to the residence before going back inside, Vooris said.
St. Louis reported hearing a noise, and Watson began to trip over the baby gate, police said. Watson then began to crawl into the kitchen and reported he had been shot, Vooris said. He wrote Watson collapsed, and St. Louis said she called 911 and her parents.
Two sons, Leo, five years old and Arthur, 14 months old, were also at home between Taylor Road and Runaway Pond.
There were multiple firearms in the residence inside a safe, and St. Louis provided two cellphones from her husband, one personal and one for work, Vooris said.
Members of the state police uniform division, detectives and the Major Crime Unit conducted an investigation over the following days and eventually investigators conducted a lengthy court-ordered search at Larocque’s residence on Friday, Oct. 27.
It was unclear why police were interested in the co-worker and why the Caledonia County homicide investigation had stretched into adjoining Orleans County.
Police have been conducting their usual traces of the victim’s connections and for anybody with a possible motive to harm Watson. Detectives from the Major Crime Unit and Bureau of Criminal Investigations have spoken with witnesses and nearby residents to learn more about the family and the neighborhood.
Larocque’s body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington for an autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death.
The final death certificate had not been filed pending more information about Larocque from a local funeral home, a Vermont Health Department spokesman said Friday afternoon.
State police, in seeking the search warrants for the Watson/St. Louis home said they were searching for all firearms, ammunition, spent shell casings, projectiles, firearm storage cases or holsters.
They also wanted to collect the body of Watson and any DNA and fingerprints from the scene, the affidavit said. While police initially respond to homicide scenes, they often withdraw after the emergency is over and seek a search warrant just to prevent later claims they illegally seized certain evidence.
The warrant for the Watson home also sought surveillance video systems capable of recording and/or storing data. State police also requested permission to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) over the property to assist the Vermont Crime Scene Search Team and to document the scene.
The judge agreed to allow for the search of the residence, various vehicles, including a school bus parked at the home, along with outbuildings and curtilage. The judge also allowed for the seizure of cellphones used by Watson and St. Louis.
Kainen did acknowledge that there are some past court cases that allow for limited sealing of some sections of search warrant applications. He agreed to releasing the first search warrant for the Watson residence, but noted the later affidavits “contained information which if made public, could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation and compromise witness safety.”
There was a “legitimate and substantial need” for the sealing, including “to protect the privacy and rights of witness/informants,” Kainen wrote.
Watson’s death was one of eight reported homicides during October in Vermont. Two have been resolved with arrests. There were people of interest or suspects in three of the other cases, police have said.
A Go Fund Page was created for the Watson-St. Louis Family with a $10,000 goal to provide support and cover future expenses. As of Friday evening, more than 200 donors had provided over $33,300, including one anonymous gift for $7,500.