DA says West Tisbury shooting Friday was act of self defense

The 19 Skiff's Lane site of Friday's shootings. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe announced Monday that an investigation has determined that Cynthia Bloomquist acted in self defense when she killed her estranged husband during a violent struggle over a pistol in their West Tisbury house on Friday morning, March 23.

Ms. Bloomquist wrestled with her husband, Kenneth Bloomquist, for control of a pistol he held, after he broke into the house they owned at 19 Skiff’s Lane early Friday morning and shot his wife with a shotgun.

Ms. Bloomquist will face no charges in a shockingly violent incident of domestic violence on Martha’s Vineyard.

“An investigation has been ongoing since the incident on the morning of March 23,” Mr. O’Keefe said in a press release. “All of the forensics and other evidence support the conclusion of a homicide during an act of self defense. There will be no further action in this matter.”

Mr. Bloomquist, 64, died at the scene. The medical examiner’s office said the cause of death was “gunshot wounds to the chest,” according to Mr. O’Keefe.

Ms. Bloomquist, 63, was wounded in the leg and transported by ambulance to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. She was released Tuesday. She continues to recover from her wounds, her lawyer, Sean E. Murphy, said.

Mr. Murphy said that an earlier report that Ms. Bloomquist possessed a pistol was incorrect. “Cynthia Bloomquist did not have any firearms in the home,” he said.

Mr. and Ms. Bloomquist were both licensed to carry firearms, according to Mr. O’Keefe.

Married for more than 40 years, Mr. and Ms. Bloomquist were long-time seasonal residents from Harvard, Massachusetts, and private pilots who frequently visited the Island in their Cessna 182-R airplane.

Ms. Bloomquist was a retired MIT administrator, Mr. Bloomquist a retired businessman. The couple was separated, police said. They had no children.

The couple sold the home they owned on South Shaker Road in Harvard on October 25, 2011, according to assessors’ records. Last year, Cynthia Bloomquist moved into the two-bedroom house just off Old County Road that the couple bought in 1981. Mr. Bloomquist lived in Rehoboth.

Imminent danger

Court documents reveal that Ms. Bloomquist feared for her safety. On the evening of March 1, she went to the West Tisbury police station and asked for an emergency restraining order against her husband.

In her affidavit, filed with the request for “an order of protection from abuse” from her husband, Ms. Bloomquist said he “has made me fear for possible harm. He has guns.”

She said that the relationship was beyond repair, and she said she had told her husband that she wanted a divorce. “He has become increasingly controlling about my rights to live without him and divorce him,” she wrote.

She said she had waited to proceed with divorce, based on an agreement to wait until the Harvard house sold and with the understanding it would be an amicable divorce without lawyers. When she told him it was time to move on, she said, he accused her of being disloyal.

She said he often drank heavily, and she expressed concern that “he may be volatile and may act impulsively out of his sense of entitlement.”

When the courts are closed, an individual can apply for an emergency restraining order through an Island police department. The police notify an on-call judge who reviews the information in the affidavit that accompanies the request and makes a determination whether there is imminent danger to the applicant, based on a credible threat at that time.

The order remains in effect only until it can be heard by a judge sitting during normal business hours. At that time, the judge determines if the order should remain in effect and for how long.

West Tisbury police forwarded the after-hours request to Superior Court Judge Robert Kane, the judge on duty. He denied the request.

Ms. Bloomquist had the option to go to the Dukes County courthouse the following day and appeal in person for a restraining order, but she did not do so.

Speaking generally about the process, assistant district attorney Laura Marshard said the advantage of appearing in court is that when the judge asks questions, information can be elicited that supplements the affidavit.

Fight for life

Ms. Bloomquist’s concern about her husband’s volatility became a reality Friday morning. Mr. O’Keefe has refused to provide any details of what his investigation revealed about the struggle inside the house or copies of the police report. However, physical evidence gathered at the scene, published reports based on conversations with police and family members, and information provided by sources familiar with the details of the investigation, who asked not to be quoted, describe a desperate struggle for survival.

Mr. Bloomquist arrived on the Vineyard on the 6 am boat Friday morning. He cut the telephone wire to the house and attempted to break through a sliding door with a crowbar. Frustrated in his efforts, he discharged the shotgun he was carrying toward the door, police said.

Cynthia Bloomquist went down the stairs when she heard the disturbance. Unable to use her landline, she dialed 911 on her cell phone. As she retreated up the stairs to a bedroom, Mr. Bloomquist fired at her. He ran into the room and fired again, hitting his wife with buckshot in the torso.

Mr. Bloomquist was armed with a shotgun and a pistol, according to Mr. Murphy. “After Cynthia Bloomquist was shot with the shotgun, Mr. Bloomquist then produced a handgun and attempted to shoot Cynthia Bloomquist with the handgun,” Mr. Murphy said, in a press release issued March 26. “During a violent struggle for the handgun, the gun discharged, hitting Mr. Bloomquist.”

Despite her wounds, Ms. Bloomquist struggled with her husband. The gun did not fire. Whether it jammed, or he did not pull the trigger correctly is not clear, according to her account.

Ms. Bloomquist lunged at her husband, grabbed the barrel and fought to turn the gun. She stuck her finger in the trigger guard, in an attempt to keep her husband from firing it.

Ms. Bloomquist’s mother, Elsbeth Helgerson, told the Cape Cod Times that a neighbor heard three shots, but her daughter could not say for sure how many shots were fired or who pulled the trigger, given the chaotic nature of her struggle.

Ms. Bloomquist’s cell phone connection to the Communication Center was open. The entire episode was overheard through the cell phone, which she had dropped after calling 911. As her husband slumped to the floor, she crawled to the phone and told the 911 operator that she had been shot and her husband was shot. The operator told her that officers were outside and on their way into the house.

Police response

At 7:45 am, West Tisbury police received a report of a man pointing a gun at a woman at the Skiff’s Lane house. West Tisbury requested that the Island’s Tactical Response Team also respond.

Police arrived and entered the house, where they found the couple

“While in route to the scene, the police department was advised that the female was shot and that the man was dying,” a West Tisbury police press release issued Friday said. “Dispatch then advised that both parties had been shot. Two ambulances were called to the scene.

“A team of four officers went into the house and found the parties upstairs in the residence.”

Will to live

“Cynthia Bloomquist showed such a will to live and I am just amazed that she was able to come through this the way she did,” West Tisbury Police Chief Dan Rossi said in a telephone conversation with The Times on Monday. “I have the utmost respect for her.”

Chief Rossi reflected on that morning’s events: shots fired, police responding to a house unsure of what they would find when they entered. “Everything we do at times in law enforcement, at any given moment, can be a roll of the dice in the decisions that you are making, and fortunately for everybody involved the decisions made that day were correct,” he said.

Mr. Rossi said the Communications Center dispatchers who handle 911 calls rarely receive the attention they deserve. “Think about the stress that the dispatch center was going through,” he said. “They were talking on the phone with this woman trying to relay important, crucial information to the officers on scene, and they couldn’t do anything about it.”

Chief Rossi praised the coordination among all the agencies that responded. “It was the way it should be,” he said. “People came together.”

Singling out his department, he said, “I could not be more proud of the West Tisbury Police Department.”