They met in an emergency room, bonded over a shared passion for tending to the injured and quickly fell in love.
Their marriage took some hits over the years when 38-year-old Sgt. David Stewart, an Army combat medic, twice deployed to Iraq and then was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
But the relationship seemed to improve in March of 2010 when the Army agreed to transfer Stewart to Joint Base Lewis-McChord so he could live in Spanaway with wife, Kristy Sampels, and their young son, Jordan.
It was a family reunited, but without a happy ending.
On Tuesday, authorities say, Stewart fatally shot his wife during a police pursuit on Interstate 5 before turning the gun on himself.
The body of 5-year-old Jordan was found in a bedroom of their house, a plastic bag over his head and bruises on his little body. Authorities said the boy had been dead about 24 hours when he was found.
Investigators are unsure who killed the boy.
“We have to evaluate the evidence, but there may never be an answer,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. “The only two witnesses are gone.”
Sampels’ friends described her as a doting mother.
Sampels, 38, had two children – a 10-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and Jordan – and tried to limit the amount of time they spent in day care.
Sue Yaw had known Sampels since she was a teenager. Yaw went to nursing school with Sampels’ mother and worked with Sampels at Mountain View Hospital in Madras, Ore., where she met Stewart.
He was working as a paramedic and often brought patients in.
Sampels quickly earned her nursing certifications and worked as a registered nurse at Mountain View from 2002 to 2007, hospital officials said Wednesday. Yaw said Sampels was the hospital’s housing supervisor and worked in different units.
“She became a leader and a mentor,” Yaw said. “I thought it was fantastic how she could teach other nurses and gain their trust.”
It’s unclear whether Sampels was working in Pierce County.
A family friend said Sampels’ family wasn’t interested in speaking with the news media.
“The pain is overwhelming but with all the prayers and love, we hope to survive,” her mother, Debbie Spicer, wrote on Facebook.
Others declined to speak about Sampels’ health, but one friend said she was suffering from complications of gastric-bypass surgery. The Thurston County coroner has said Sampels clearly had a medical condition and was emaciated.
The couple had difficulty living so far apart and sometimes disagreed on parenting tactics, friends said.
On Facebook pages belonging to Stewart and Sampels, they occasionally wrote about the struggles of being separated and the excitement of seeing each other again.
“Little more than 24hrs and im back with my beutiful wife and children,” Stewart wrote on Sampels’ page on Dec. 11, 2009. “Life is great!!”
Stewart had been stationed at Lewis-McChord for the past year, according to Army records. He was assigned to the 575th Area Support Medical Company, 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade.
Since he joined the Army five years ago, he deployed to Iraq twice as a medic in the 82nd Airborne Division. His first deployment was from August 2007 to November 2007. Stewart’s second deployment lasted from December of 2008 to November 2009.
He brought years of experience as a civilian paramedic before he enlisted, said a soldier who served with him.
Stewart “was unmatched in his skill,” said Sgt. Cesar Arturo Lopez, another medic who served in Iraq with Stewart three yeas ago in the airborne division’s 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Stewart “was a strong man,” Lopez said. “He loved his family and he volunteered to serve his country in a time of war.”
Other soldiers who deployed with Stewart said his moods swung from high to low but that he was seeking counseling and had stopped drinking.
“He had problems with his wife, and he really wouldn’t talk too much about it,” said Chris Spratley, who served with Stewart in Iraq. “But he always talked about how he loved his family. He loved (Jordan). He told me he lived for that kid.”
Stewart’s sister, Kim Sileo of Florida, said Jordan was a “daddy’s boy” and the two loved horsing around.
She said Sampels called her Monday night looking for Stewart because the couple had a big argument and Stewart hadn’t yet come home.
She awoke in the morning with a missed call from a phone number with a 253 area code, but nobody answered when she called back.
An investigator called soon after to tell her what had happened.
“The brother I know would never hurt anybody,” Sileo said. “He was a survivor. He struggled his whole life to become somebody and he always wanted to be a hero.”
Staff writers Stacey Mulick and Adam Ashton contributed to this report.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 firstname.lastname@example.org