By Tom Jackman and Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 15, 2006; B01
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."
Lash's résumé was long and quintessential of the Washington elite -- an Ivy League pedigree, high-powered law firms, a presidential appointment, think tanks, boards of directors, guest spots on television news programs, and prestigious university positions.
He had an undergraduate degree from Yale University, a law degree from Harvard University. He clerked for a New Jersey Supreme Court justice. He served as counsel to the chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission during the Reagan years, worked for the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and served on the boards of directors of private and publicly traded corporations. In 1994, he found a place in academia on the GMU law faculty.
He specialized in the arcana of business law there and earned a reputation as a generous and jovial cigar-smoking colleague, an approachable professor and a sharp-minded and willing debater of ideology.
"He was a wonderful colleague, lively and full of ideas, full of energy," Polsby said. "I would describe him as an engaged and articulate person, not at all the sort of person whose last act would be what it appears to have been."
Polsby said "there was nothing" to suggest that Lash was troubled.
Lash took a leave from the law school in 2001, when President Bush appointed him assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance. Among his duties at the Commerce Department, Lash headed a task force on the reconstruction of Iraq, in which he dealt with businesses seeking contracts.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez said: "Bill was a passionate, committed and hard working individual who was much loved and respected by his colleagues. . . . He was a vivacious, expansive, and tenacious Assistant Secretary."
Lash resigned the post last year and returned to GMU. He also was a senior adviser to the Brunswick Group LLC, a firm specializing in corporate public relations.
A few weeks ago, he had dinner at his house with a Mason colleague, Todd J. Zywicki, whose office was next door. Zywicki said he detected no signs of trouble that night, not even in retrospect.
"I'm just stunned," Zywicki said yesterday. "He loved his son so much. He really loved his son . . . and he did everything for him."
It was the impression Lash left on most everyone.
"I have no explanation," said Michael Krauss, another GMU colleague. "There are people who seem troubled, but I never would have thought that about Bill Lash. Never."
Lash was born and raised in New Jersey, where his parents still live. They declined to comment yesterday.
Zackula, a lawyer with the National Association of Securities Dealers, could not be located yesterday.