LOCKPORT, La. (AP) — A nurse embroiled in a custody fight with his ex-wife killed his current wife before shooting his former in-laws and his onetime boss in a rampage that spanned two parishes in Louisiana, leaving three people dead and three wounded. He then fatally shot himself in the head, authorities said.
All three survivors remained hospitalized Friday, two in critical condition, Brennan Matherne, a spokesman for the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office, said in an email. He said deputies are still investigating the motive.
Preliminary evidence shows that Ben Freeman, 38, first killed his wife, Denise Taylor Freeman, 43, before he went on a rampage and shot the others Thursday, Maj. Malcolm Wolfe, of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, wrote in an email.
Denise Freeman's body was found in a bathroom of their house, and an autopsy showed that she suffocated and drowned, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said Friday.
According to investigators, Ben Freeman then drove to his former in-laws' home in Lafourche Parish, about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans. With a shotgun, he killed his former mother-in-law, Susan "Pixie" Gouaux (pronounced "go"), and wounded her husband, Councilman Louis Phillip Gouaux, and one of their daughters, Andrea Gouaux. His ex-wife, Jeanne Gouaux, apparently wasn't at the home.
About 20 minutes later, Freeman arrived at the home of Milton and Ann Bourgeois. Milton was the longtime CEO of Ochsner (OX-ner) St. Anne General Hospital in nearby Raceland, where Freeman had worked as a nurse until two years ago. Freeman shot Milton Bourgeois at close range, killing him, and shot Ann Beourgeois in the leg. She was in stable condition Friday.
Both Louis and Andrea Gouaux were in critical but stable condition following surgery Friday in New Orleans, Matherne said.
Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said Freeman had been fired from St. Anne. He said police previously had been called to the hospital after Freeman damaged a room. Freeman told officers he would seek mental help, Webre said.
But in a teleconference later Friday, Ochsner officials said Freeman had resigned voluntarily, citing personal reasons. The officials said he had worked at the hospital from May 1998 to April 2011, and that he was considered an on-call employee for another five months after that.
Freeman also had worked at two other hospitals, which along with St. Anne had been placed on lockdown for a time on Thursday.
Susan Gouaux — "Pixie" to her friends — was a teachers' aide at Holy Savior Elementary School. She also was a talented needlewoman and knitter who designed the state bicentennial quilt square for Lafourche Parish and made scarves for all her friends, Parish President Charlotte Randolph said in a telephone interview.
Randolph said she went to school at one time or another with Philip and Susan Gouaux, and that Susan Gouaux had taught her grandchildren. The couple has six adult daughters.
Gouaux called 911 around 6:40 p.m. Thursday from his home in Lockport, telling dispatchers he had been shot in the throat, The Courier newspaper in Houma reported. Freeman was divorced from Gouaux's daughter Jeanne, whom he married in 1997.
Jeanne Gouaux — also a nurse — had filed several protective orders against Freeman, who had pleaded guilty to harassment charges and was allowed only supervised visits with their four children, Webre said. The last protective order expired less than a month ago, he said.
"Clearly, there has been a very difficult and complicated divorce/custody issue going on," Webre said during a news conference late Thursday.
Freeman pleaded guilty on Oct. 23 to one of two criminal telephone-harassment charges brought on a complaint filed June 19 by Gouaux and her father, Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court Vernon H. Rodrigue said. He was given a deferred sentence of a $250 fine or 10 days in jail, put on unsupervised probation for a year, and the second count of criminal harassment was dismissed, Rodrigue said.
On Nov. 27, Ben Freeman was issued a citation for simple battery domestic violence against Denise Freeman, the sheriff's office said in a news release. A court date had been scheduled for Jan. 16, 2014.
Court records show Freeman agreed in June to pay Jeanne Gouaux $22,560 in overdue child support payments dating back two years. A settlement filed the following month showed the couple would sell three adjacent lots near her parents' house and split the $25,000 in proceeds; Freeman also agreed to pay Gouaux $39,000.
Jeanne Gouaux and the children lived with her parents for a while after the divorce, said Rita Bonvillain (BAHN-vee-yenh), 83, a neighbor of the family for nearly 30 years. She said Andrea Gouaux, a nurse like her sister Jeanne, was visiting from Texas.
Whenever a holiday came, she said, children filled the house and yard. A trampoline, soccer balls and a swing hanging from a big oak in the front yard testified to that.
Bonvillain choked up and held back tears several times as she talked about the Gouauxes. Since her husband died, they regularly have stopped by to ask if she needs groceries or other errands run. The councilman once told her, "If you ever hear a sound at night and want someone to check it out, call me," she said.
Ben Freeman was found dead around 10:45 p.m. along U.S. Highway 90 near Bayou Blue. He had shot himself in the head.
At Denise Freeman's house, a man who did not give his name demanded that an Associated Press reporter leave his sister's property.
Others in the neighborhood of quaint middle-class, ranch-style houses in Houma, the Terrebonne Parish seat, said the house was originally hers.
She had only recently married Freeman, but she and her son Josh — of elementary school age — had lived there for years, said Glenn Cradeur, who has owned his house, two down from hers, for 28 years. He said he believed the boy was not home when his mother was killed.
Cradeur said he saw no signs of trouble until about two weeks ago, when he saw police vehicles outside the home, responding to what he believed was a domestic dispute.
He returned from a visit to out-of-town relatives to find emergency vehicles outside the house and stunned neighbors gathered nearby.
"It's shocking, and it's sad," he said.
Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.