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Suicide Can't Be Ruled Out in Death of Kimberly Vaughn, Pathologist Says

Dr. Larry Blum said the Oswego mother had a "toxic" level of an antidepressant in her system at the time of her death; her children were killed by a gun fired less than two feet away.

The two Vaughn sisters, 12-year-old Abigayle and 11-year-old Cassandra, were sitting side-by-side in the back seat of the family's SUV when someone fired bullets into each of their heads and torsos, a forensic pathologist testified Wednesday.

Their brother, 8-year-old Blake, was shot in the head and under the arm -- the latter likely the result of him raising his arm in a defensive motion, Dr. Larry Blum said.

The murderer is either their father, Christopher, eager to shed his boring suburban existence for a life in the Canadian wild, or their mother, Kimberly, suicidal over her crumbling marriage and perhaps under the influence of a "toxic" level of an antidepressant drug.

, now 37, is on trial for the murders, which occurred in the early morning hours of June 14, 2007, on a lightly traveled road near .

But Blum helped bolster the defense's case that Kimberly Vaughn is the actual culprit by acknowledging the gun shot fired into her brain from below her chin could have been self-inflicted.

Blum also testified that Vaughn had more than 500 mg of nortriptyline in her blood at the time of her death, when the daily maximum dosage is 150 to 200 mg. Side effects for the drug, typically used as an antidepressant, include the potential for suicidal thoughts, especially in children, young adults and adults under the age 24.

Earlier testimony indicated that Vaughn, 32 at the time of her death, had been prescribed the drug to treat migraine headaches.

Blum was not the pathologist who did the autopsies in 2007, but was called by prosecutors to review the work done by Dr. Bryan Mitchell, who died in 2010, and to testify about the findings.

Given the "stippling" -- small dot-like injuries created by gun powder and other debris released when a gun is fired -- near the head wounds and some of the body wounds, Blum said he believed the gun was no further than 18 to 24 inches away from each child before being fired.

While the head wounds likely killed all three, the secondary shot in the torsos contributed to their deaths, he said.

As for Kimberly Vaughn, her head injury would have almost immediately "incapacitated" her and death would have followed quickly, Blum said.

Blum and Mitchell were required to determine the cause of death -- in this case, gun shot injuries -- but they were not required to identify the "manner" of death. That is the purview of the Will County coroner, who can declare it natural, homicide, suicide, accident or undetermined.

Despite that, Blum said he could offer his opinion.

"Based on what I know ... I cannot rule out suicide," he said.

Prosecutors, anticipating Kimberly Vaughn as suicidal, have had several friends and family members testify in the last three weeks about Vaughn's approach to motherhood and her demeanor in the days prior to her death.

"She was a very friendly, outgoing, bubbly personality," said Reina Carrasco, who met Vaughn when they started working at their subdivision's clubhouse about two months before the shooting.

Carrasco said they became fast friends, seeing each other three or four times a week, in part because their youngest and oldest children were the same age.

Vaughn was the kind of mother who got in the pool and played with her children rather than watching from the sidelines, she said, and she would help them do homework when they'd drop by to see her at the clubhouse.

Anthony Bridges, who also worked at the clubhouse, had similar memories.

"She was a very lovely mother," said Bridges, who recalled her constantly checking on her kids when they were in the pool. "I thought she was an outgoing person, always looking forward to expanding her career and making things better for her children."

But he also remembers one discussion they had about her career goals in which she told him she might join her husband in a private investigation business once she completed her college degree. The only thing holding her back was having to have a weapon.

"She wasn't very comfortable with guns," he said. "She didn't think they were the right way to resolve a situation."

Friend Alyson Mals, who worked for the development company that sold the Vaughns their house, recalled Kimberly Vaughn dropping by the sales office to talk, sometimes for hours at a time. Vaughn helped counsel Mals as she went through a broken engagement, recalling in an email the turmoil that surrounded her own wedding 13 years earlier, in part because Vaughn was pregnant when she wed.

But she also acknowledged that Vaughn seemed "bored" to her, and maybe a little lonely because her husband traveled so much for work.

That said, Vaughn never spoke ill of her husband, said Lynda Vena, whom Vaughn befriended after she started going to Vena's hair salon in September 2006.

"She felt bad that he had to work so much," Vena said. "Kim more or less idolized him."

Here are the stories from the previous days of testimony:

Former Stripper Testifies in Vaughn Case

brian September 06, 2012 at 11:57 AM
did she have any gunfire residue un her hands?did he have any gunfire residue on his hands?if they didnt check for this it sounds like they botched the investigation
Karen Sorensen (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 12:25 PM
That hasn't been addressed one way or the other in the trial yet, Brian.
Kathy F September 06, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I was wondering that also
D K September 06, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Brian, that should be a definitive piece of evidence. If she fired the gun, she should have residue on her hand(s). One would think that would be a fairly simple piece of evidence to interpret. What a tragic end to a family.
FP September 06, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I agree with the gunfire residue on their hands. I've also been wondering about the distance of shot fired into Christopher's leg. He claims she shot him as he was running away, I always thought that specialists/investigators could tell the distance of the shot and from the angle of the shot whether it was self inficlted.
Becky September 06, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Would they also be able to see from which way the bullets traveled into the bodies?
Amanda M September 06, 2012 at 02:33 PM
I'm just thinking that if she was firing shots at all three kids before she shot herself, wouldn't he fight her for the gun? Was he just watching her shoot these kids and then shoot herself? My thoughts would be she wouldn't be able to shoot all three kids without him fighting her... JMO! And with as tight of a place, I believe both of them would be covered in gun shot residue.
Becky September 06, 2012 at 03:06 PM
If I remember correctly, his story is that she shot at him first, and he jumped out of the car and went for help. I think that's what he said anyway.
Karen Sorensen (Editor) September 06, 2012 at 10:12 PM
These are all great questions, and so much evidence hasn't yet been presented. Unlike TV, real-life trials are far more methodical and slow. For example, only today - day 13 of testimony - did they get into whether there were prints on the gun & bullets. (Read tonight's story to find out!) Re gunshot residue on hands, that's a pretty basic thing they always check. But there are 2 things to remember: 1) When you fire a nine shots inside a closed vehicle, there's going to be residue everywhere. And assuming a greater concentration was found on Kimberly's hand, that doesn't necessarily mean she was the shooter. Not to be indelicate, but could Chris have shot himself once using her hand so the residue would have been there? And if Chris pulled the trigger, could he have cleaned his hand? Can you wipe off gun residue? Re where Chris was shot, what we know so far is what he told investigators -- his wife shot him while he was in the driver's side seat of the SUV. Bloodstains on the seat and door seem to support that, although whether he was shot by his own hand or his wife's is a call the jury will make. He said he fled and went for help because he assumed his wife would not hurt the kids. As for bullet trajectory, yes, you can determine the angle and relative distance, but can you prove Kim shot from her seat or did Chris lean in through the passenger side door and fire the gun? And what can you tell from blood splatters? No evidence has been presented on that yet.
Oswego Resident September 06, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Read the story titled "Gun fired 6 inches from Vaughn" at right above, for the forensic evidence about the gun shots, trajectory etc. Also, he went to the shooting range the night before to practice. Convenient explanation for the residue, if you ask me.
brian September 07, 2012 at 09:25 AM
many very good points made.
brian September 07, 2012 at 09:28 AM
i couldnt agree more,what a shame
Amy Adam-Jenkins September 07, 2012 at 12:46 PM
The level of Nortryptiline found in Kimberly was over twice the recommended dose, which is lethal in itself. At that level, she would have been heavily sedated, if not close to death from an overdose. If she was even capable of lifting a gun, how precise would her aim possibly have been? How could someone who would theoretically be unable to support their own hand lean over the back seat and shoot methodically with such rapidness and consistency? She could have easily been overpowered after the first shot was fired...if that is indeed what happened.

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