Nolan Buchanan, a 16-year-old high school student, was taken out of his school in Benicia, California, by police Thursday morning and arrested — charged in the grisly murders of his entire family. Buchanan’s dad, 38-year-old Adam Buchanan, his 8-year-old brother Gavin, and his father’s fianceé and mother of the younger boy, Molly McAffee, 37, had been missing since September 11, when the family traveled from Benicia about 100 miles northeast to Garden Valley.
The family owned a cabin in the small El Dorado County community, where the planned to spend that weekend. But on September 13, a fire raged through the cabin and 10 surrounding acres in what at first appeared to be an out-of-control brush fire.
In fact, the fire was deliberately set — and investigators now say that it was 16-year-old Nolan — whose name has been spelled “Nolen” in some media accounts — who ignited the blaze in an attempt to cover his tracks after gunning down his family.
Police found three bodies in the cabin that were charred beyond recognition, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.
DNA analysis later revealed their identities. But Nolan Buchanan, who continued to attend school even after the tragedy, told the police investigators that he had simply stayed behind in the East Bay city of Benicia while his dad, brother, and future stepmother left on vacation.
But the police now say that Nolan was on a “short list” of suspects from the beginning, and that they have now found evidence that proves the teenager is lying about his whereabouts at the time his family members perished.
Among that evidence was a white Ford F150 Pickup truck that had been seen at the cabin 100 miles from Benicia, but then turned up outside the offices of a construction company owned by Adam Buchanan.
According to El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, that pickup truck, “wasn’t supposed to be up here and it was up here. And then it was back down in Benicia.”
The truck was far from the only evidence turned up by police at the Buchanan family business, according to a report on the San Francisco news site SFGate. They also found Adam Buchanan’s wallet, Molly McAffee’s purse containing her identification — and a gun, with ammunition.
Without specifying exactly what, police also said that inside the truck was further evidence demonstrating the Nolan Buchanan had indeed traveled to the cabin.
KRON TV in San Francisco reported that police believed that after telling his family that he would stay in Benicia, he then drove the pickup truck to the cabin in El Dorado County, killed his family, burned down the cabin with their bodies inside, then drove back to Benicia.
The criminal complaint against Nolan Buchanan alleges that he shot each one of his three family members with a .22 caliber rifle, either on or about September 13, 2015.
The Benicia Unified School District issued a statement Thursday saying that it had been informed of the investigation into one of its students, but that police assured them that he was not a danger to himself or his fellow students.
“We kept a close eye on the student, met with him daily, and were observant of any concerning behaviors for his safety and the safety of others,” Benicia Superintendent Charles Young said in the statement.
“These are tragic cases,” D’Agostini said at a press conference in Thursday. “A father, son and mother lost their lives. This is a tragic case for everyone.”
Nolan Buchanan has been charged as an adult with three counts of murder. If police have any indication of his motive for killing his family, they have not yet said what it is. The boy is expected to appear in court either Friday or Monday.
[Images: KRON-TV Screen Captures]