Ex-Bush Aide Fatally Shoots Son, Himself

William H. Lash III, a professor at George Mason University and former Bush administration official, killed his 12-year-old son and then himself at their McLean home.
William H. Lash III, a professor at George Mason University and former Bush administration official, killed his 12-year-old son and then himself at their McLean home. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

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By Tom Jackman and Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 15, 2006

A former Bush administration official, after arguing violently with his wife Thursday night, shot and killed his 12-year-old son inside their McLean home, then turned a shotgun on himself and committed suicide, Fairfax County police said.

William H. Lash III, 45, was an assistant secretary of commerce from 2001 until last year, then returned to teach at George Mason University Law School in Arlington, where he had begun as a professor in 1994. His wife, Sharon K. Zackula, fled the house before the shootings, and police said yesterday they were not sure what ignited the murder-suicide in a first-floor bedroom.

Friends and neighbors described Lash as devoted to his only child, William H. Lash IV, who was autistic. Will Lash had just completed sixth grade at Haycock Elementary School in the Falls Church area, Fairfax school officials said. The father and son could often be seen side by side on the swing set in their back yard, one neighbor said, and the pair often attended Washington Nationals baseball games.

Police said they had not been summoned this year to the blue expanded Cape Cod-style home on Pathfinder Lane in the West McLean neighborhood. There was no record of any domestic complaints. Neighbors said the family kept a low profile.

But shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday, police said, Lash and Zackula had a dispute and Zackula ran from the house and called police. Zackula was not hurt, but the dispute was physical enough that police later obtained a warrant charging Lash with domestic assault, Officer Richard Henry said.

Lash never knew about the warrant. When three or four officers arrived at 9:55 p.m., Henry said, they knocked on several doors but got no answer. Within 10 minutes, while trying to decide their next move, the officers heard two gunshots from inside the house, Henry said.

Not knowing who was shooting -- and who was being shot at -- the officers called for help. Teams of tactical officers and hostage negotiators were summoned, Henry said. Black-clad officers with rifles darted across front lawns, a command post bus was brought in, and police dispatchers phoned neighbors with urgent instructions: Turn off all lights and get in the basement, neighbors said.

After phone calls failed, a police negotiator began circling the house with a bullhorn, two neighbors said. The negotiator gently pleaded with Lash, "Bill, we need to know you're okay," the neighbors said. "Please give us a sign. Answer the phone. Turn on a light."

The negotiator tried to reach Lash for more than two hours. "He was incredibly compassionate," said one neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After 1 a.m., police released a remote-controlled robot, equipped with a video camera, so police could gauge what was happening inside. The neighbor said the robot rolled slowly down Pathfinder Lane, up the Lash driveway and into the house.

Finally, at 3:50 a.m., officers went inside and found Lash and his son, both dead from gunshots to the upper body.

Daniel D. Polsby, dean of GMU's law school, said, "This thing just doesn't belong to the normal range of human experience, and we're all just heartbroken for his family, his community and for ourselves."


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