The rumble of an early morning rocket launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base woke many Los Olivos residents before dawn Thursday. What many of them saw, however, were firefighters flooding the town center to battle the flames of a large barn fire.
It was a surreal morning, when roughly an hour later a Sheriff’s helicopter began circling overhead, deputies cordoned off streets around Alamo Pintado Avenue and SWAT officers in tactical gear readied their rifles. The bomb squad arrived, schools were locked down and houses evacuated. Ambulances stood by.
Inside a home at 2230 Alamo Pintado Ave., a man had called 9-1-1 shortly before 8 a.m. claiming a “violent crime” had been committed.
When officers entered the home, they found Gregg Hamilton, 50, and his wife, Kimberly Hamilton, 45, dead. A gun lay nearby.
Police suspect that Hamilton, a local construction contractor, killed his wife before turning the gun on himself after a possible domestic dispute.
“The case is still under investigation, but at this point all indications are that this was a murder-suicide,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.
Shawn Knight, a Ballard Canyon resident, recalls school days with Gregg Hamilton, his competitive drive in sports and their tendency to be “rabble rousers.”
A few weeks ago, they relived their school days during a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School open house they were attending for their sons, who are in the same class.
They joked about being troublemakers during Spanish class, Knight said, hoping their kids wouldn’t give the teacher grief like they had.
“Wish I knew behind the big smile was much pain, wish I could have helped create a different path… wish we had another chance,” Knight wrote in a Facebook post.
Knight struggled to reconcile Thursday’s events with the grinning boy he grew up with. The two were born three days apart, graduated in the same class and have kids the same age. Knight said he denied all morning that Hamilton could have been capable of what police are investigating – a murder-suicide that has shaken the community.
“There wasn’t a bad bone in his body,” Knight said. “But I didn’t live with the guy, I didn’t work with him as an employee … there may be a whole other side I didn’t realize. There’s no outward sign that tells you a friend of yours is in trouble.”
Yet others close to the Hamiltons who asked not to be named out of respect for the family, describe Gregg as a “tough guy” who was “rough around the edges.”
Reflecting back on the open house, Knight said he wished he’d told Hamilton how proud he was of his son, Dylan.
“One thing I didn’t say that I wish I had is that our sons have turned out to be ironically, so much better than us. They’re straight-A students and his son is extremely accomplished in athletics,” Knight said. “His son just worships the world of his dad, and … no matter how angry he might have been, or whatever led to what happened this morning, I don’t know how he’ll get past that fact.”
Kimberly Hamilton, remembered by friends as a caring mother and “sweet spirit,” leaves behind two adult children from her first marriage, Justin and Taylor, and a third child, Dylan, who is in high school.
“She [Kimberly] was an absolutely amazing mother to three children and she was always there for her oldest son, Justin,” said Grey Bear Erickson, who has been friends with 26-year old Justin Hamilton for years.
Hamilton, a drummer, would often play gigs with Erickson. Kimberly would always be in the audience rooting for her son, Erickson added.
Susie Jones, who knew Kimberly for years, echoed Erickson’s sentiments.
“She was so close to her daughter, Taylor. She played water polo, and I’m sure that she [Kimberly] was at every one of her games,” Jones said during a local benefit concert held in remembrance for the victims Thursday night.
The apparent murder-suicide comes as a shock to the bedroom community of Los Olivos, where each tragedy cuts deep, Jones said.
“This is not what we’re used to at all. It’s very unusual for the area,” said Sharon Puchli, the Hamilton’s next-door neighbor, speaking from her front porch. She said the last time she saw a comparable police presence was when a neighbor down the street committed suicide decades ago.
“But that’s different,” Puchli said. “That’s very personal.”
Neighbors said they cannot recall a time when law enforcement has been called to the Hamilton’s home for any issues.
Sheriff’s officials confirmed that officers have not been called to the house “in recent history.”
“They were a nice family,” Puchli said. “We’ve never heard any fighting, shouting, nothing like that at all.”
Puchli’s husband, a plumber, has performed some work for Gregg Hamilton’s construction contracting business, she said.
“He was always a pleasant man to work for,” she said.