A 3-year-old boy, his throat slit, dies along with his brother, mother and aunt while his father is serving in Iraq. Hikers find a librarian and her daughter shot to death along a trail. A group of young men are fired on when they pull their car into a driveway.

The crimes left nine people dead in as many days, stunning this generally peaceful region. Law enforcement officials said they couldn't recall a similar string of multiple homicides in the Seattle area.

"What's really strange about them, besides the quantity, is that every one of these cases is very bizarre," King County Sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart said. "We just don't have that."

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The Seattle area is no stranger to horrific crimes — serial killers Gary Ridgway and Ted Bundy, for example, and the unsolved assassination of federal prosecutor Tom Wales in 2001.

But Seattle's murder rate is low for a city of nearly 600,000. There were 24 killings in 2004 and 25 last year. Boston, of comparable size, had 61 in 2004 and 73 last year.

Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt noted that none of the three mass killings this month took place within city limits, though all were near. Still, Seattle itself has had 17 killings already this year — more than a third of them from one attack in March, when a man shot and killed six people at a rave after-party in the worst mass killing the city had seen in decades.

The string of recent crimes in the surrounding area began July 11, when hikers found Seattle librarian Mary Cooper, 56, and her daughter, Susanna Stodden, 27, shot to death about three miles up a popular Mount Pilchuck trail 50 miles northeast of the city. No arrests have been made, and detectives have revealed little about their investigation.

Then, on July 17, fire investigators in the eastern suburb of Kirkland found the family of National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin dead in a burned-out home. Investigators determined gasoline had been used to start the fire.

Witness accounts led them to a next-door neighbor, who was charged Monday with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Charging papers said the neighbor, Conner Michael Schierman, 24, admitted that he woke up in the victims' home covered in blood following an alcoholic blackout and didn't remember what had happened.

Last Thursday, just south of the city limits, five young people were asked to leave a bowling alley and casino because two were underage. As they left, they argued with people who had been smoking outside a nearby home, police said. They pulled their car into the driveway to continue the argument, and two men at the home — Dimitri Sidorchuk, 23, and William Shane Belk — fired dozens of shots into the vehicle, court documents said. Of the five unarmed people in the car, two were killed and three injured.

One of Sidorchuk's stray bullets struck Belk, who also died. Sheriff's deputies said they later found a marijuana-growing operation at the home. Sidorchuk was charged Tuesday with two counts of second-degree murder, one of first-degree manslaughter and three counts of first-degree assault.

"These crimes are just gruesome," said Doug Canfield of Mountaineers Books in Seattle, who helped arrange a $6,000 reward for information in the trail killings. "We're just hoping this crime will be solved so people can head out to the trails again with a feeling of safety."

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