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Friends, family detail Atwaters’ troubled marriage

As the investigation into the murder/suicide of an Oak Harbor family focused on the question, why, authorities uncovered a tale of a marriage that had broken down well before it turned tragically fatal.

The case of the deaths of Alan and Dawn Atwater and their three children remains under investigation, but a report released last week by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department paints a picture of desperation: Alan, 31, telling friends and family he wanted to keep the marriage intact but asking a younger man to sleep with his wife; Dawn, 30, looking to end the marriage to a domineering man who loved their children and confiding to friends he had been abusive to her.

The bodies of the Atwaters and their children, Ashley, 4, Isaac, 2, and Brady, 1, were found early in the morning of April 16 in an upstairs bedroom of the farmhouse they rented from Alan’s grandparents at 964 Leutz Road. All were dead of gunshot wounds.

A woman who knew the Atwaters and had worked with Dawn at the Stein Hospice Center in Sandusky said Dawn told her Alan had admitted to having affairs but threatened to kill himself if Dawn ever left him, according to the report.

The woman, who later worked at a drive-through near the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Station where Alan worked, told investigators he stopped at the drive-through the Friday before the shootings.

“Yeah, I’ve been gone for seven weeks, and can you believe I come home, and Dawn, my wife, tells me that she wants a separation,” the woman said he told her.

Sheriff’s detectives also interviewed a 20-year-old Oak Harbor man who Alan had hired in 2009 to assist him with farming chores and equipment repairs. The man said Atwater treated him like family and was like a father figure to him.

But about a month before the shootings, the man received a text message from Atwater, asking him to sleep with Dawn. Atwater confided he couldn’t make his wife happy, the man told detectives.

He said he and Dawn had sex in the Atwater’s bedroom while Alan was out of town.

The man said he and Alan communicated by text messages and Alan commented the man was “ the only one that I can trust,” he told investigators.

The man and Dawn continued to communicate through texts, he said, and planned to get together on a night when Alan was back home. He later received a text message from Alan saying that Dawn had developed feelings for him and Alan didn’t want him to have sex with her again.

“I was like, All right. No problem with that,” the man said. He later received a text from Dawn saying “We are back on for Sunday night.” 

When he arrived at the Atwater home, Alan was there but assured him he was “OK with it.” The man told investigators he had sex with Dawn that night while Alan was downstairs.

Another woman who had worked with Dawn at the hospice center said Dawn told her she’d caught Alan cheating on her through text messages she found on his phone.

“He actually was seeing her before they got married and then during marriage, and supposedly he ended it with her about two years ago,” the woman told detectives. “

The woman said she had no knowledge of Alan physically abusing his wife but described him as very controlling, noting Dawn wanted to continue to work outside the home but Alan forced her to quit.

She said the Atwaters were having financial problems and Alan was paying child support for an older daughter.

The 20-year-old man told investigators Alan had admitted once shoving Dawn against a wall.

Alan confided deeply with an aunt the Friday before the shootings.

Text messages between the two seem to indicate he wanted the marriage to work.

Alan: “I hope she can feel good about talking to u. I need her so bad. There is nothing that is as important to me as her and I’m goin prove it to her. The farmin the overtime the outages everything r last  she and the kids are 1st and always will b 1st.”

Aunt: “Good I really think she will gain trust and love u again if she will give it time  she did it once”

The aunt told investigators Alan “had some issues with anxiety attacks” but wasn’t sure if he was on medication.

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