SANTA CRUZ — The three people found dead on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean grew up in the same small eastern California town and were excellent students, school officials said.
Officials at South Tahoe High School were baffled by the news that former students Melinda Leippe, 19, Brenda White, 19, and David Bachman, 26, died from gunshot wounds to the head.
The bodies were discovered slumped over in a circle Tuesday night by a group of passers-by who had come to Bonny Doon Beach, about seven miles north of Santa Cruz, to watch the sunset.
A Santa Cruz County sheriff’s department spokesman said investigators believe Bachman killed Leippe and White before turning the shotgun on himself. The two women were shot in the back of the head, said sheriff’s spokesman Kim Allyn.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of a suicide pact among the three, Allyn said. There were no signs of a struggle and the bodies did not appear to have been moved. A suicide note has not been found, Allyn said.
Investigators were not sure how long the trio had been in California.
Records show Leippe and Bachman shared an apartment in Littleton, Colo., and White lived in the same apartment complex. The apartment manager said they all moved out about two months ago.
All three attended South Tahoe High School, although Bachman graduated before the younger girls started their freshman year, according to the school’s principal, Karen Ellis.
Ellis on Thursday described Bachman as an excellent student and “a wonderful young man.”
She said Leippe was an honor student, and that neither had been disciplined for misconduct at the school. White also attended the school, but left after her junior year.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here,” Ellis said. “We absolutely hope it never happens again.”
White’s mother still lives in South Lake Tahoe, while Leippe has family members in Reno, Nev., and Bachman has relatives in Littleton.
Donielle Dutton, who lived in an apartment next to Bachman and Leippe during the summer of 2000, called the two “nice and quiet” and said Bachman “was into Dungeons and Dragons” and other fantasy games, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Coroners performed autopsies on the two women Thursday, Allyn said. They were set to perform the third autopsy on Friday. Formal results won’t be available for at least a few weeks.
The public has free access to the horseshoe-shaped, privately owned beach, which is known for nude sunbathing and rave parties — a rave was set to take place at the beach Wednesday night. Authorities are called there periodically on reports of drug use, sexual assaults and violence.
“In the past we’ve had homicides there, but not very many,” Allyn said. Most reports involve “parties and just some real dangerous drifters.”