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Mystery Grows In Platte

PLATTE, S.D. - Did Scott Westerhuis really shoot and kill his family before turning the gun on himself as investigators believe? 

People in Platte are having a hard time coming to terms with that finding. 

But the town of 1,200 wants answers about what was going on at Mid Central Co-op and Westerhuis' involvement with GEAR UP Grant money.

Previous Story: Westerhuis Business Lost $4.3M Contract Hours Before Deaths

KELOLAND's Angela Kennecke has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the tragedy that happened hours after the state pulled a $4.3 million grant from Mid Central - money that Westerhuis was deeply involved in.
People living in Platte want the answers we're all seeking. 

Don Lucas has lived on two acres south of Platte for nearly 20 years.  The sound of the whistle in town alerting volunteer firefighters woke him early on the morning of September 17th.  But as he left for work some ten minutes later, the location of the fire was a big surprise. 

Angela Kennecke: “You pulled out here that morning?” 
Don Lucas: “Yeah, and you can see the Westerhuis' place right there."

The Westerhuises were Lucas' neighbors a half mile down the road for more than a decade.

“Oh, I know where the fire's at.  You could see the flames already then. The north end of the house was completely engulfed in flames.  Only a third of it or so was completely on fire.  I could see most of the house,” Lucas said.

Lucas says two fire trucks were already there and more were headed to the property. He figured the Westerhuises had called in the fire themselves and were out safely.  It was only later that he learned the truth. 

“Yeah, it was sickening,” Lucas said.

Lucas worked on a community center project with Nicole Westerhuis when she worked for the city.

“Really nice person--both of them were,” Lucas said.

And that's what you'll hear from most people in Platte.  Luann Boyden has worked at the convenience store that backs up to Mid Central Coop, for 15 years.  As you can imagine Boyden knows everyone in town. She says the Westerhuises came in with their kids two or three times a week for lunch.

“They were a very close knit family.  They were.  They did a lot of things. Scott was really involved in the community. He was a mentor to some of the kids. He did a lot out there with training and stuff.  He was real good with the kids,” Boyden said.

Now it's the loss of four children this community is left struggling with.  Someone has placed fall pumpkins with the names, Michael, Connor, Jaeci and Kailey in front of the ruins. 

Many people in Platte cannot accept the Attorney General's findings that Scott Westerhuis killed his entire family before turning the gun on himself.  And many are suspicious about what really happened here.  I talked with one neighbor, who didn't want to go on camera who says a strange car was in her driveway at 4:30 the morning of the fire.  But people in Platte have resigned themselves to the fact they may never know what happened behind these gates. 

“But it's just hard to believe that he did what they say.  Until there's other proof otherwise, but he didn't seem like a person who would kill his own kids,” Lucas said.

Angela Kennecke: “There are a lot of rumors swirling around."
Luann Boyden: “Oh there is.  It's small town USA--there's always rumors."

One thing people in Platte know for sure is what they didn't know -- how the Westerhuises managed to build such an elaborate compound on their property.  Valued at $1.3 million, it included a 7,600 square foot house; along with a $900,000 gym that had a basketball court; weight lifting area; computers; and a loft with rooms for guests, a meeting room and kitchen.  The property is beautifully landscaped, there are football goal posts and jungle gyms and that's not all. 

Previous Story: Westerhuis $1.3M Property And Non-Profits That Took Grant Money

Angela Kennecke: “And is that what they were building?” 
Don Lucas: “Yes, it was going to be a swimming pool; an indoor swimming pool."
Kennecke: “Did you know that for sure?” 
Lucas: “Yeah."

Lucas admits, he wondered how Westerhuis was paying for it all. 

“I knew of it each time he was building on and it seemed kind of odd that that much construction would go on there,” Lucas said.

“I think it's going to be bigger than we all even thought.  You have your suspicions and you wonder, but you don't know.  And now we're going to find out I guess,” Boyden said.

At least that's what most people in this little town hope will result from the ongoing criminal and financial investigations. 

KELOLAND News has been checking with the Attorney General's office every day and the only update we're getting is that the investigation continues.


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