As friends and family of 23-year old Kaylee Sawyer try to make sense of her death, allegedly by 31-year-old Central Oregon Community College security guard Edwin Lara, a forensic psychologist says many questions may never be fully answered.
Questions linger as the investigation into last week's bizarre crime unfolds. Why would Lara—who is married to a Bend police officer, has studied criminology, and has no prior criminal record, according to Oregon State records—allegedly flee from a tragic scene and commit many other crimes?
It's a tragic turn of events that leaves us asking why.
Police say Lara was arrested after a high speed chase on I-5 near Corning, Calif., 36 hours after Sawyer's death. The security guard allegedly killed Sawyer by striking her with a college security vehicle. Then, police say, he went on to shoot another man, kidnap a family of three in Yreka, and force them to drive him around at gunpoint before releasing them.
So what gives?
Why would a person who has allegedly committed a serious crime then dig a deeper hole by committing other serious crimes in an effort to run from it? Did Lara really think he could escape and not be held accountable, or did he succumb to sheer panic?
Psychologist Dr. Frank Colistro of Portland agrees that this is a peculiar and tragic case. While pointing out that he has no detailed or specific inside knowledge of this case other than reading about it, he deals with similar situations in the Portland area. He offered the Source Weekly some insight that may help explain what can go through the mind of someone who has just committed a serious crime for the first time, and how they might ultimately react.
Colistro says it's much easier to rationalize and understand the actions of repeat criminals than the alleged actions of Lara, who has no apparent criminal record. "Oftentimes what you see in situations like this is someone who has entertained fantasies over the years about doing these types of offenses," Colistro explains. "Human nature being what it is, the more one fantasizes about a situation, the closer they come to making those fantasies reality."
Colistro adds that people who commit serious crimes often don't have the same fully developed conscience that normal law-abiding people have. "Their minds work differently," he says. He explains that unless Lara is willing to talk openly, we may never fully understand his motives.
Did panic overrule Lara's rational thoughts and cause him to flee and commit other serious crimes?
"I wouldn't call it panic as much as arousal, but there are similarities," Colistro says. "People who commit violent acts for the first time can become traumatized and show signs of remorse and guilt. At that point he was highly aroused, and that high level of emotional arousal was guiding his behavior rather than rational thought." According to police, Lara was acting oddly after returning home Sunday night following the incident. Police say that the following morning Lara told his wife that he panicked after running over Sawyer and disposed of her body. He then fled with his 9 mm pistol and began his alleged crime spree into California, police say. Colistro says it appears Lara displayed the normal state of mind that can be expected of a person who has committed a violent act for the first time.
Central Oregon Community College Community Relations Director Ron Paradis told Portland TV station KATU that the college's public safety department is one of the most highly trained and respected departments in the Northwest and provides security 24/7. "It's kind of hard to tell people that they should rest comfortably, knowing we have a very strong public safety department, when it was a member of our department who perpetrated the crime," he said. "Overall this is a safe campus, but like anywhere, any campus, any community, everybody has to be aware and alert."
Colistro concludes, "The moral of this story is that we all have to be vigilant in our lives. Most of us feel that if we don't act in a provocative way, if we are courteous and kind to other people, nothing bad will happen to us." He adds, "That's only partly true. While we can reduce risk, random acts of violence will happen and sometimes there's not a lot we can do to protect ourselves from that."
Lara has pleaded not guilty to all California charges including attempted murder. The possibility of his extradition to Oregon will be discussed in a Siskiyou County court proceeding Aug. 16. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel expects the case to go before a grand jury soon to determine if Lara will be charged in connection with Sawyer's death. Court documents allege Sawyer's death was no accident.