Longtime Philomath teacher C.A. Rath and his wife, Merry Rath, were found dead late Sunday morning from apparent gunshot wounds, Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said Monday morning.
Rueben said police received a hang-up 911 call at 10:41 a.m. from the couple’s residence in Forest Meadows, a manufactured home community located off North 19th Street. Philomath Officer Brandon Thurman responded within 5 minutes of the 911 call, Rueben said.
Upon arrival, nobody answered the door and he ran license plates on a vehicle in the driveway to confirm that he was at the correct address. A Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived a short time later to assist and they forced entry into the home.
“They discovered C.A. Rath and his wife, Merry, both deceased in the house,” Rueben said. “We’re firmly believing that the scene’s been contained and there are no outstanding suspects … there’s no danger to the community.”
Rueben said that in regards to the 911 hang-up call, he did not as of Monday morning have a copy of the dispatch tape.
“I don’t know who called — if it was her or if he called and was going to tell us what happened, we don’t know,” Rueben said.
Rueben said he could not confirm if it was a homicide-suicide situation in the Rath home, saying only that both had died from apparent gunshot wounds. He declined to comment further with an ongoing investigation that includes results pending from planned autopsies.
C.A. Rath, 55, and Merry Rath, 53, who was a hair stylist, were married for 32 years. Both were well-known in the community and the couple had two adult children.
C.A. Rath joined the staff at Philomath Elementary as a physical education teacher in August 1991. He also taught for two months in Alsea prior to taking the Philomath job. He earned a bachelor of science degree in exercise and sport science in 1990 from Oregon State University.
Through the years, Rath coached wrestling, football and baseball in Philomath. Ten years ago when he was in his mid-40s, Rath received a kidney from a local pastor after he was diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder.
Merry Smallwood graduated from Gold Beach High School and married Carl Anthony Rath in the fall of 1988.
She was active on Facebook earlier on Sunday morning, posting scenic photos of Philomath after rain had fallen while on a walk with her dog. The dog was found in the home unharmed and a neighbor volunteered to take care of him.
“Emotional-wise, I think this is going to be difficult for the town,” Rueben said. “Both of these people lived here for a long time. The school district has had several meetings this morning with staff about this and obviously, the impact on the students is going to be tough.”
Susan Halliday, Philomath superintendent of schools, sent a letter to families Monday informing them of the deaths.
“All week, staff at each school will be available to support students and families,” Halliday said, “and we will be sharing this information with our elementary students tomorrow.”
Halliday also expressed hope that families would talk Monday with their children.
“Our hearts go out to the Rath family during this time,” Halliday said. “CA’s heart for students will always be remembered.”
The last known shooting death inside the Philomath city limits occurred Sept. 11, 1983, when an apartment complex resident fired shots through a wall and killed an 18-year-old neighbor.
Rueben said the scene did not require full implementation of the multi-agency Benton County Major Crime Team. Philomath Lt. Dave Gurski and Thurman are the lead investigators on the case.
“We determined that we didn’t need a full team call-out because it was pretty contained right there and we didn’t believe there were any outstanding suspects or danger,” Rueben said.
The major crime team also becomes a necessity on large cases that require an intense investigation that can include an overwhelming workload, but Rueben said that is not the situation at this time, although it’s possible that the full team could be involved later.
“Any time we have deaths or major crime, some of the key evidence comes from phones and electronic information and we have to wait for forensic analysis of that and that’s what we’re basically waiting on right now,” Rueben said.
Oregon State Police’s forensic crime lab scientists arrived at the scene Sunday evening to offer their expertise, including the gathering of evidence. The Benton County Deputy Medical Examiner’s Office also responded.
“We’ve done a complete crime scene investigation and talked to certain family members and we’re comfortable with what we have right now at the scene and what our determination has been,” Rueben said. “We’re convinced that there’s not a third suspect or a suspect at large in any way right now, but we have to do a full, complete investigation.”
Rueben said there has never been any service calls in the past at that residence or involving that family.
The bodies were taken to McHenry Funeral Home in Corvallis and were to be transported Monday afternoon to the medical examiner’s office in Clackamas County for autopsies that are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Assisting in the investigation are the Corvallis Police Department, Benton County Sheriff’s Office and OSP forensics. If anyone has information concerning the investigation or mentioned persons, contact Philomath Police at 541-929-6911 or at [email protected].
“We’re blessed here to have good partners — obviously we had Benton County and Corvallis PD out here from minute 1 — and they do a really good job and helped us out,” Rueben said.