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Autopsy results released Friday dashed hopes that Army contractor Christopher Jessop's two small children were spared death by fire.
Jessop, daughter Mariah, 3, and son James, 4, succumbed to flames in a Thursday morning car fire, according to preliminary autopsy results, said Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park.
The sheriff said he had hoped the children were killed in a less painful way before their father ignited a gasoline fire in an apparent double-murder and suicide early Thursday.
Family members of Jessop also were shocked to learn that the children burned to death and that investigators believe Jessop was responsible for the car fire at a gas station 11 miles north of the Army's Dugway Proving Ground, where Jessop lived, according to a family spokesman.
"They are very upset to hear that," said Steve Ketter, a private investigator and family friend. "Every bit of information makes it even worse for them. They are mortified by this loss."
Jessop's brother Jeremy, reportedly the last to see Christopher alive, saw no warning sign Christopher would do something terrible Wednesday night, Ketter said.
Jeremy Jessop, in a statement Ketter released Friday, expressed shock, saying Christopher Jessop was a "good family man, a loving father and the heartbeat and center of the family."
Jeremy Jessop last saw his brother about 9 p.m. Wednesday when he left Christopher Jessop's house on the Army base after a dinner with the children, Ketter said.
Ketter said he was unsure where the children's mother, who was reportedly separated from Jessop, was during the dinner.
The sheriff's office previously stated that Christopher Jessop had taken his children to dinner at a brother's house in Salt Lake City that night. Investigators hoped to learn more about what led Jessop to the apparent double-murder and suicide by interviewing family members, Park said.
"If the guy kills himself, that's one thing," Park said Friday. "But why take the kids? That's the part we can't understand."
Jessop parked his Jeep Liberty at the Pony Express gas station on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, pumped $40 in gas in and around the car and lit it, Park said.
A trucker passing by saw the fire erupt into a giant blaze and contacted a local tribal member to help douse the flames. By the time the flames were out, only the charred bodies and car frame remained.
Jessop's body was found in the back seat of the Jeep, an arm around Mariah. James had been seated on the other side of him.
Investigators are awaiting toxicology results to determine if the children were drugged to lessen their pain, Park said.
Since March 2006, Jessop, 30, worked as a contract computer operator for Dugway, an Army weapons testing compound about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
The couple had lived in base housing, Park said. The parents of Jessop's wife were in town this week looking after her because she had had recent medical problems, Park said.
Park said Jessop had no history of spousal abuse and had committed no wrongdoing on base.