It could take weeks to learn how girls died

It may take several weeks to determine the cause of death of two young sisters who were found Monday afternoon at the Edmonds home of their father, who was also found dead.

Autopsies were performed yesterday on sisters Hayley Byrne, 9, and Kelsey Byrne, 11, and their father, Stephen Byrne, 50. Police are investigating the incident as a murder-suicide.

When authorities burst into Stephen Byrne's house Monday, they found Hayley and Kelsey Byrne tucked inside their beds in the room they shared when they visited their father. Because the girls showed no evident trauma, their cause of death won't be known until toxicology tests are completed, said Edmonds Assistant Police Chief Al Compaan.

Byrne was found in the back yard, shot dead from a wound to his head.

Byrne's former lawyers say the man was fixated on his divorce case and tried to control every legal maneuver — especially when it came to custody of his daughters.

When Byrne's ex-wife was granted primary custody, it didn't stop him from pushing for more time with the children.

Byrne's devotion to his daughters is undisputed.

He saw the girls several times a week, and after his ex-wife, Suzanne Dawson, moved from Bainbridge Island to Shoreline, he followed by moving to Edmonds.

But what caused Byrne to apparently kill his daughters, before turning his shotgun on himself, is causing police, relatives and family friends to question everything they ever knew about the 50-year-old man.

"Steve was a wonderful man," Shannon Byrne Brower, Byrne's sister, said last night from her home in Estero, Fla. "He had beautiful daughters he loved very much."

Brower said the girls' mother "also loved them very much."

Nothing appeared out of the ordinary when people saw Byrne and his daughters at his home in the Seaview neighborhood, in the 8100 block of 188th St. Southwest, on Sunday. But less than a day later, police and medics frantically stormed the house after police say Stephen Byrne called 911 demanding medics and police attention.

Four minutes before the 911 call, Byrne apparently sent an e-mail to eight people — friends, relatives and his ex-wife, Compaan said. In the e-mail, Byrne indicated "anger and frustration" with the legal system. He was upset with the custody agreement and thought he didn't get to see the children enough, Compaan said.

"He pretty much (in the e-mail) set the stage for what we found," Compaan said. "It was clear after reading the e-mail we were going to find an unpleasant scene."

Outside of Dawson's Shoreline home last night, Oliver Feeback of Bothell, the girls' uncle, said the family "could never have imagined something like this would occur."

"Our family is devastated by the deaths of these two wonderful girls. Our plea is that more people will be able to receive the counseling they need in order to avert such tragedies," Feeback read in a statement.

"We are in the process of making painful decisions and we'll let others know when plans have been finalized. The (medical examiner) is expected to release the girls tomorrow."

Liz Feeback, the girls' aunt, said there is a large extended family, mostly in Bothell, that is dealing with the pain and anguish.

Byrne filed for divorce in 1999, and the marriage was dissolved in October 2000, according to Kitsap County Superior Court records.

In court papers, Dawson said that early in their marriage Byrne "had an anger control problem."

Dawson said he would "blow up and scream and be verbally abusive when he could not get his way." She said that when she was eight months pregnant with Hayley, her husband "blew up and pushed me around," according to court papers.

Patty Velasquez, who lived next door to Dawson on Bainbridge Island, said that during the divorce Dawson had to communicate with Byrne via e-mail.

"I remember him being very verbally aggressive," Velasquez said. "It became a situation where she felt so uncomfortable about talking to him in public."

When Dawson told Byrne she planned to move to Shoreline so she could be closer to her work in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, he took her to court. The couple had an agreement in which the girls spent 60 percent of all nights with Dawson, according to court papers.

Dawson was allowed to relocate. She moved to Shoreline, and the girls were enrolled in Sunset Elementary School. Byrne followed and rented the home in Edmonds last year.

A spokesman with the Department of Social and Health Services said yesterday that Byrne owed $8,673 in overdue child support and a lien was placed on his property.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or