SEAL BEACH, Calif. – An 86-year-old woman was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in her bed at a Southern California nursing home Sunday, and her husband of nearly seven decades was found sitting next to her and arrested on suspicion of murder, police said.
The couple's daughter told the Los Angeles Times the shooting a month before their 70th anniversary was "a mercy killing" by a husband who had long fed and bathed his wife as she suffered from dementia and decline.
Reports of gunshots at Country Villa Healthcare Center came at about noon, and within a few minutes officers arrived from the California Highway Patrol, Orange County Sheriff's Department and three local police departments, Seal Beach police Sgt. Steve Bowles said.
A tactical team surrounded the facility and soon entered. Inside they found Clara Laird dead of a single gunshot wound to the head, and found her husband Roy Charles Laird in a nearby chair, Bowles said. Officers recovered a .38 caliber revolver from Roy Laird.
"It was in his pocket," Bowles said, and added Laird gave no trouble to officers who arrested him.
Laird was being held at Seal Beach jail Sunday night.
The scene at the nursing home was "chaotic" on a weekend afternoon with many visitors in addition to patients and staff, Bowles said.
Bowles could offer no information on the motive or health of the couple, nor say whether any trouble had been reported between them.
The couple's daughter, Kathy Palmateer, 68, told Times that Roy Laird had insisted on helping dress and feed his wife as dementia took hold.
He reluctantly agreed three months ago to check her into Country Villa — near their home in the retirement community of Leisure World — after she took a bad turn and was unable to walk, sit up in a wheelchair, feed herself or recognize many of those around her.
"Her mind was gone," Palmateer told the Times as she waited outside the police station to see her father. "It was a mercy killing."
Palmateer briefly met and talked to her father, the newspaper said, and discussed his getting a lawyer and getting his medications in jail, she said.
Bowles said prosecutors would decide on charges this week.