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4 Boys Killed; Wounded Mother Is Suspect

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 33-year-old mother stands accused of the unthinkable crime of murdering her four sons in a grisly scene that shocked even sheriff’s deputies who have grown accustomed to violence.

“It was horrible,” said Deputy Brian Perry, one of the first officers at the house.

Susan Diane Eubanks, whose life was beset with marital problems, debts and violence from her estranged husband, may be arraigned today in her hospital bed, where she is recuperating from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the abdomen, officials said.

The case began to unfold Sunday afternoon when sheriff’s deputies were called to a rented home in a working-class section of this rural community 40 miles north of San Diego to mediate a dispute between Eubanks and her new boyfriend.

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Several hours later, deputies returned after being alerted by Eubanks’ estranged husband that something may have gone dreadfully wrong at the family home. They forced their way into the two-bedroom house, which sits on a lot populated by chickens, dogs and horses. Deputies were shocked at what they found inside.

Three of Eubanks’ sons--ages 6, 7 and 14--were dead from gunshot wounds to the head, apparently inflicted by their distraught mother. A fourth son was clinging to life. And Eubanks was in a back bedroom, her bleeding body beside a .38-caliber pistol.

Officials said they found no suicide notes or illegal drugs in the home and no indication that the boys had sought to flee. Still, they are convinced that the incident was an intended murder-suicide, with no other suspects than Eubanks.

“We know what happened; we just don’t know why,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Wood.

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Found dead inside the home from gunshots inflicted at close range were Brigham Eubanks, 6, Austin Eubanks, 7, and Brandon Armstrong, 14.

Matthew Eubanks, 4, was taken by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in San Diego, where he was immediately placed on life support systems. He died at 4:30 p.m. Monday shortly after his father arrived at the hospital. The child’s organs may be used for transplant, hospital officials said.

A fifth child in the home, a 5-year-old cousin of the slain boys, was not injured.

Eubanks’ trouble-filled life was seemingly spinning out of control in recent weeks.

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Desperate and afraid for her life, Eubanks had gone to court last month seeking to escape from a marriage filled with allegations that her husband physically abused her, threatened to kill her and was given to alcoholic rages. Eubanks pleaded with the judge to keep her husband away from her and their sons.

Like many a woman newly separated from her husband, Eubanks immediately had severe money problems, including $40,000 owed on her credit cards. But last week, she was ordered by a separate court to pay $341 a month to support a 14-year-old son from a previous marriage.

And then on Sunday afternoon, a new relationship crumbled as she and her new boyfriend quarreled and he gathered up his belongings.

Eubanks had recently filed for divorce from her husband of nine years, Eric Dale Eubanks, 37, a cabinetmaker and Pop Warner football coach. She cited his alleged continued erratic behavior, drinking and physical threats.

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Susan Eubanks also was convicted of drunk driving in 1996 after nearly ramming a sheriff’s car at 2 a.m. A blood-alcohol test showed that she had more than twice the legal limit in her system.

Eubanks had alleged that her husband accused her of infidelity, threatened to kill her and suggested that she kill herself. Eric Eubanks was convicted in June of misdemeanor spousal battery after a scuffle at the home.

He was given probation on the condition that he undergo domestic violence and alcoholism counseling. Court documents indicate that he refused to attend the alcoholism counseling and that he insisted to counselors that he did not have a drinking problem. An arrest warrant was issued for him after he refused to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He had also recently been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

“There was always trouble up there,” said one neighbor. Others said the family kept their distance and declined to socialize.

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Sheriff’s deputies, who had made frequent trips to the house, responded to a call Sunday from Eric Eubanks, who had received an ominous “farewell” message on his pager. Surrounding the home, deputies heard Susan Eubanks calling for help.

Deputies found two of the boys in a bedroom and two others in the living room. Eubanks was found in a second bedroom.

Eric Eubanks and his estranged wife’s boyfriend, whose name was not released, had apparently gone to a bar to “cool off” after the argument between Susan Eubanks and the boyfriend, officials said. Neither man is considered a suspect.

In one document relating to the divorce, Susan Eubanks wrote: “I returned to my home after spending the night with a friend and found that my husband had torn up my clothes and written the word D-I-V-O-R-C-E in large letters in nail polish on the bathroom mirror.”

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In another, “My husband called me a whore. . . . He said that I should do everyone a favor and kill myself. He frequently talks of poisoning the food. I am afraid of him.”

And in a third, “My husband grabbed me by the arm and was shaking me violently wanting to know about my checking account. He also spit in my face.”

Documents also tell of Eric Eubanks allegedly taking a shovel and breaking the windshield of his wife’s car and of his allegedly getting drunk and choking his wife. Susan Eubanks complained to court officials that her husband would not give her enough money to pay bills and that he hid the telephone.

Eric Eubanks was under a court order to stay away from his wife and to stop harassing her, although he had been given visitation rights, including during Pop Warner games and practices. One of the sons played on a team coached by his father.

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Susan Eubanks, a medical technician, was receiving $740 a month from worker’s compensation after being injured on the job. Her husband had been ordered to begin paying her $870 a month from his job with a Vista cabinet shop.

The family lived a few hundred yards off the busy California 78, a major east-west traffic artery in northern San Diego County. The home is near Cal State San Marcos.

After a stormy relationship that included screaming matches and frequent calls to 911, the couple separated in early September and Susan Eubanks filed for divorce three weeks later. A hearing was set for Nov. 3 to discuss visitation rights.

Last week, Susan Eubanks was ordered to pay $341 a month to support son Brandon Armstrong, whose father, Eubanks’ ex-husband, a resident of Texas City, Texas, had been given custody.

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Although authorities were still trying to piece together the events that led to the shootings, some people who have studied domestic violence cases speculated that Susan Eubanks’ marital history may have contributed.

“I could see where a woman who had experienced this sort of violence for a long time would ultimately strike out with violence herself,” said San Diego feminist attorney Cynthia Thornton. “What is strange, though, is that she would strike out against her children.”

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Times special correspondent Renee Martin contributed to this story.

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