Teenage son is charged in deaths of family found in burned cabin

A 16-year-old boy was charged Thursday with fatally shooting his father, half-brother and his father’s fiancee, whose remains were found in the family’s El Dorado County cabin.

Nolan Buchanan of Benicia was taken into custody Thursday morning, El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini said during a late-afternoon news conference.

He is being prosecuted as an adult and could appear in court as early as Friday morning, Dist. Atty. Vern Pierson said. It was unclear whether the teenager was being represented by an attorney.

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The teen’s prosecution marks the latest twist in what Pierson called a “very serious, tragic, obviously horrible” event that was first reported Sept. 13 as a brush fire along California 193 in Garden Valley. After the fire was extinguished, officials said the family that was staying in the cabin was missing.


The cabin was owned by Adam Buchanan, 37, who had a construction business in the Bay Area city of Benicia. His attorney told the San Francisco Chronicle that Buchanan, his fiancee, Molly McAfee, 37, and the couple’s 8-year-old son, Gavin Buchanan, had traveled to the cabin Sept. 11 for a weekend getaway. The older son, Nolan Buchanan, reportedly stayed home.

The mystery of the missing family took a dramatic turn when sheriff’s officials said the charred remains of three people were recovered in the cabin. The bodies were later identified through DNA analysis as those of Adam Buchanan, McAfee and Gavin. Officials say the three died of gunshot wounds.

Investigators raided the family’s Benicia home and the construction company. They found evidence — including McAfee’s purse and Adam Buchanan’s wallet — that contradicted Nolan Buchanan’s account, D’Agostini said.

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A firearm and ammunition were also found near the construction company’s offices, and investigators seized a white Ford F-150 pickup that was spotted at both the cabin and the offices.

The pickup “wasn’t supposed to be up here and it was up here. And then it was back down in Benicia,” D’Agostini said.

Nolan Buchanan was on a “shortlist” of suspects “from the very beginning,” D’Agostini said, but he declined to release details about a possible motive or additional circumstances so as to not jeopardize the case’s prosecution.

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