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Police: La. shooter embroiled in difficult divorce

LOCKPORT, La. (AP) — It might have appeared that Ben Freeman was trying to right some wrongs in his life in the months before police say he killed three people and himself.

In June, he agreed to pay his ex-wife Jeanne (ZHANNE) Gouaux (GO) $22,560 in overdue child support payments dating back two years, court records show. A settlement filed the next month show that the couple would sell three adjacent lots near her parents' house and split the $25,000 in proceeds. Freeman also agreed to pay Gouaux $39,000.

But June also was the month that Gouaux and her father filed a complaint against Freeman. And on Oct. 23, he pleaded guilty to one of two criminal telephone-harassment charges based on that complaint, Lafourche Parish Clerk of Court Vernon H. Rodrigue said.

Freeman, 38, was given a deferred sentence of a $250 fine or 10 days in jail and put on unsupervised probation for a year, and the second count of criminal harassment was dismissed, Rodrigue said. On Nov. 27, Freeman was issued a citation for simple battery domestic violence against his current wife, Denise Taylor Freeman, according to the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office. Freeman's court date had been scheduled for Jan. 16.

But on Thursday, police say Freeman killed his wife, whose body was found in a bathroom at home. He then fatally shot his ex-mother-in-law and the CEO of a hospital where he once worked, wounded three others, and killed himself, sheriff's officials from Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes said.

Authorities are still investigating Freeman's possible motives, but "clearly, there has been a very difficult and complicated divorce/custody issue going on," Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said.

All three survivors remained hospitalized, two in stable but critical condition, hospital officials said late Friday. Preliminary evidence shows that Freeman first killed Denise Freeman, 43, before he went on a rampage and shot the others, Maj. Malcolm Wolfe, of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office, wrote in an email.

Denise Freeman's body was found in the bathroom. An autopsy showed she suffocated and drowned, Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said Friday. Ben Freeman then drove to his former in-laws' home in Lafourche Parish, about 45 miles southwest of New Orleans, investigators say. With a shotgun, he killed his former mother-in-law, Susan "Pixie" Gouaux, and wounded her husband, Councilman Louis Phillip Gouaux, and one of their daughters, Andrea Gouaux. His ex-wife, Jeanne Gouaux, apparently wasn't at the home.

About 20 minutes later, Freeman arrived at the home of Milton and Ann Bourgeois. Milton was the longtime CEO of Ochsner (OX-ner) St. Anne General Hospital in nearby Raceland, where Freeman had worked as a registered nurse until two years ago. Freeman shot Milton Bourgeois at close range, killing him, and shot Ann Beourgeois in the leg. She was in stable condition Friday.

Louis and Andrea Gouaux were in critical but stable condition after surgery Friday in New Orleans, Brennan Matherne, a spokesman for the Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office, said. Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said Freeman had been fired from St. Anne, and police previously had been called to the hospital after Freeman damaged a room. Freeman told officers he would seek mental help, Webre said.

But in a teleconference later Friday, Ochsner officials said Freeman had resigned voluntarily, citing personal reasons. The officials said he had worked at the hospital from May 1998 to April 2011 and that he was considered an on-call employee for another five months after that.

Freeman also had worked at two other hospitals, which along with St. Anne were placed on lockdown for a time Thursday. Susan Gouaux — "Pixie" to her friends — was a teachers' aide at Holy Savior Elementary School. She also was a talented needlewoman and knitter who designed the state bicentennial quilt square for Lafourche Parish and made scarves for all her friends, Parish President Charlotte Randolph said in a phone interview.

She said that she went to school at one time or another with both Philip and Susan Gouaux, and that Susan Gouaux taught her grandchildren. The couple have six adult daughters. Gouaux called 911 around 6:40 p.m. Thursday from his home in Lockport, telling dispatchers he'd been shot in the throat, The Courier newspaper in Houma reported. Freeman was divorced from Gouaux's daughter Jeanne, whom he married in 1997.

Jeanne Gouaux, also a nurse, had filed several protective orders against Freeman, who was allowed only supervised visits with their four children, Webre said. The last protective order expired less than a month ago, he said.

Jeanne Gouaux and the children lived with her parents for a while after the divorce, said Rita Bonvillain (BAHN-vee-yenh), 83, a neighbor of the family for nearly 30 years. She said Andrea Gouaux, a nurse like sister Jeanne, was visiting from Texas.

Whenever a holiday came, she said, children filled the house and yard. A trampoline, soccer balls and a swing hanging from a big oak in the front yard testified to that. Bonvillain choked up talking about the Gouauxes. Since her husband died, they regularly stopped by to ask if she needed groceries or other help. The councilman once told her, "If you ever hear a sound at night and want someone to check it out, call me," she said.

Ben Freeman was found dead around 10:45 p.m. along U.S. Highway 90 near Bayou Blue. He had shot himself in the head. At Denise Freeman's house, a man who didn't give his name demanded that an Associated Press reporter leave his sister's property.

Others in the neighborhood of middle-class, ranch-style houses in Houma, the Terrebonne Parish seat, said the house was originally hers. She had recently married Freeman, but she and her son Josh — of elementary-school age — had lived there for years, said Glenn Cradeur, who has owned the house two down from hers for 28 years.

He said he believed the boy was not home when his mother was killed. Cradeur said he noticed no signs of trouble until about two weeks ago, when he saw police vehicles outside the home, responding to what he believed was a domestic dispute.

He returned from traveling to find emergency vehicles outside the house and stunned neighbors gathered nearby. "It's shocking, and it's sad," he said.

Associated Press Writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.

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