Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone said his office will be “conducting a comprehensive review of what occurred here” after a woman was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in a barn near Pittsburgh on Tuesday, a tragedy Vittone called possibly “preventable.”
Tierne Ewing’s body was found Tuesday. With her was her husband, Kevin, barely alive after a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was later pronounced brain dead.
At the time, Kevin was out on bond while awaiting trial stemming from charges that he had previously abducted and beaten Tierne.
“This appears that it might have been a preventable tragedy,” Vittone told KDKA.
Suspicions around Kevin’s behavior toward his wife first arose on July 8, when Tierne entered a Chrome Federal Credit Union in North Stabane, about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
She was covered in burns, cuts and bruises. Staples lined her head in what she later told police was a homemade treatment, makeshift stitches for a gash she received when Kevin smashed her over the head with a wooden gun stock.
“She had asked for assistance on a domestic dispute that was happening between her and her husband,” Chrome Federal Credit Union’s Colan Miles told KDKA. “[Tierne] was frantic; obviously, she had been through a lot of the distress. We took [her] into the break room area that only has employee access, contacted the local authorities and waited for them to appear.”
The police found Kevin sitting in a pickup truck, which was idling in the parking lot. He was armed with a rifle, a handgun and a knife, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
They promptly arrested him.
Tierne told authorities that he had beaten her, spat on her, pistol-whipped her, used wire to tie her hands together, and kept her as a prisoner in her own home from June 26 to July 8, the day she arrived at the bank.
At one point, he allegedly used a metal hot dog fork to brand her. She said he locked her in the closet and left her there. Finally, he allegedly took her into the woods and threatened her with a gun to her head, KDKA reported.
Her father said this wasn’t even the worst condition she’d been in.
“She was scared to death of him. He threatened her all the time, and he beat her up several times,” Tierne’s father, Richard Kopko, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “July wasn’t the worst. She’s been beat so bad before.”
The alleged abusive behavior was reportedly prompted by Kevin finding text messages on Tierne’s phone that he didn’t like, though the nature of these messages remains unclear.
Kevin was charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, terroristic threats and carrying a firearm without a license and unlawful restraint, KDKA reported, and his bond was set at $100,000.
He posted the bond on July 11, which the AP called “unexpected.”
“My heart just dropped,” Assistant District Attorney Kristin Clingerman told WTAE of Kevin’s bond release. “My gut reaction was this is not going to end well.”
She wasn’t the only one who was scared.
“[Tierne] told me years ago, ‘Dad, if you can’t ever find me, I’ll be buried on his dad’s farm,'” Kopko told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Tierne was scared.
“She was terrified, shaking, scared. She kept saying, ‘I know he’s going to kill me,'” Clingerman told WPXI.
Clingerman asked the judge not to allow Kevin out on bond, citing a history of abusive behavior. In April 2001, Kevin pleaded guilty to simple assault after attacking his wife. He spent seven months in prison. That same month, in a petition for a protest from abuse order — an order that can set parameters for what an abuser can and cannot do, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Abuse — Tierne wrote that Kevin “told me I would leave in a pine box,” according to the Observer-Reporter.
Even so, Judge Gary Gilman refused to change the bond or retain Kevin in jail. Instead, he ordered Kevin to remain confined in his mother’s home while awaiting a trial date.
He wasn’t allowed to have weapons in the house or to contact his wife, the Associated Press reported. He was also forced to wear a GPS-based ankle bracelet that would alert authorities if he left the premises.
Rose Riggle, Kevin’s mother, said the married couple remained in contact, though. Tierne would visit the house, and on Monday, Riggle saw the two arguing, the AP reported.
Kevin held a black revolver, which belonged to Riggle’s ex-husband.
Riggle said Kevin then made Tierne pack food and clothes, before making her leave with him.
When Riggle attempted to interfere, Kevin pushed her to the ground.
Police say they weren’t notified because he had cut his ankle bracelet off by snipping through the plastic band, which didn’t trigger its internal system, which would have alerted authorities of the breach, according to the Observer-Reporter.
A manhunt was immediately launched to find the couple. On Tuesday, the gray Hyundai Veloster in which the two were thought to be traveling was spotted near a barn in West Finley Township.
A SWAT team surrounded the barn, where they found Tierne’s corpse and Kevin’s bleeding body. She had been shot in the head. He was alive, but with the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Also in the barn were a .22-caliber gun, a sleeping bag and camping equipment, WPXI reported.
Kevin was charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, reckless endangerment and a firearm violation, and his bond was revoked, according to the Observer-Reporter.
But on Wednesday, the Washington County Coroner and Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Offices declared Kevin to be brain dead. He remains on a ventilator as organ donation is being considered, KDKA reported.
Tierne’s father blamed the justice system for his daughter’s death.
“What can I say? My daughter’s dead and he’s sick and the damn judges let him go,” Kopko told KDKA. “Oh, big deal they put a bracelet on him and she’s six miles away. Come on, give me a break. There’s something wrong with the judging system in this country.”
Vittone, the DA, promised to review the case.
“I can assure you that what we will be doing in the days and weeks to come is that we’re going to be conducting a comprehensive review of what occurred here,” he said.