The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed on Friday the identification of the three remaining bodies discovered inside a charred Ford SUV in Pinal County’s Vekol Valley last weekend as the children of James and Yafit Butwin of Tempe.
The Butwin’s children — Malissa, 16, Daniel, 14, and Matthew, 7 — were identified through dental records, and all died from gunshot wounds, according to Dr. Gregory Hess, Pima County Medical Examiner.
James Butwin and his wife, Yafit, were identified Thursday.
Yafit Butwin also died from a gunshot wound and James Butwin, 47, who Tempe police believe shot and killed his family inside their home on June 2, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Tempe police are not looking for any other suspects as investigators said evidence from the family’s home in the 9300 block of South Kenneth Place points to a murder-suicide.
It was not known what triggered James Butwin to kill his wife and family, but the couple was going through a divorce, according to court records, and James Butwin’s commercial land business, Jcb Ventures, was experiencing financial problems, police said.
About 8 a.m. on Saturday, authorities discovered the charred Ford Expedition in the desert area of the Vekol Valley with four bodies piled in the back of the vehicle and one in the back passenger seat.
A first report to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office came from a man who believed that one of the vehicle’s occupants was his 40-year-old brother-in-law. The man told authorities his brother-in-law told him that he was going to Vekol Valley “to make some money,” and said it was “illegal,” according to the sheriff’s office.
On Monday, it was discovered that the car was registered to the address where the Butwins and their three children lived. Butwin’s business partner called Tempe police to tell them that the family was missing and that there possibly could be a connection to the five bodies discovered. The business partner said he had received a note from James Butwin on Saturday telling him how to run the business without him. After police conducted a welfare check on Butwin’s residence, officers discovered signs of a struggle inside the home and evidence that a crime had taken place.
James Butwin, who turned 47 June 1, according to his Facebook page, and his wife, Yafit, were separated and planned to get a divorce, according to Maricopa County Family Court documents. Butwin’s land business, Jcb Ventures LLC of Tempe, was having financial problems and he was battling brain cancer, authorities said.
Malissa and Daniel were both students at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, located near the family’s home.
Malissa played the clarinet in the Corona del Sol marching band, and was a member of the school’s state championship color guard. Daniel was in the band’s percussion unit and recently was selected for the highly-competitive drumline. Daniel was taking summer school classes at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee Foothills, but wasn’t at school Monday, according a Corona del Sol official.
Crisis counseling teams are in place at both Corona del Sol and Mountain Pointe.
At 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent working in conjunction with the “West Desert Task Force” saw a Ford SUV along Interstate 8 in the Vekol Valley area. As the agent turned his vehicle around to contact the occupants of the vehicle, it fled. It was not known who was driving the vehicle, according to the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
The vehicle was not located again until approximately 8:30 a.m. Saturday — this time still off the roadway at milepost 147, the sheriff’s office said. The vehicle still was smoldering and had been burned with some kind of accelerant, the sheriff’s office said.
On Wednesday, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office said it still believes that five different individuals — all from Pinal County and tied to the initial missing report — set out June 1 to engage in some kind of illegal activity, possibly connected to the drug trade.
“We’re dealing with two different cases,” PCSO spokesman Elias Johnson told the Tribune Wednesday. “We still have five people missing, and we believe that it is connected to some kind of illegal activity.”
Since the men connected to the initial phone call could be involved in the drug trade, their names are not being released, Johnson said.
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