2 years later, father charged in death of daughter’s friend

He admits he pulled the trigger. But Charles Heller claims self-defense in fatal shooting of Dustyn Hunt-Bagby.

Dustyn Hunt-Bagby. (Justice for Dustyn Coalition)

Dustyn Hunt-Bagby. (Justice for Dustyn Coalition)

EVERETT — For nearly two years, friends and family of Dustyn Hunt-Bagby have wondered whether his alleged killer will face prosecution.

They finally have an answer.

Charles Frederick Heller III, 49, was charged Monday in Snohomish County Superior Court with second-degree murder.

When sheriff’s deputies responded to Heller’s home in the Silver Lake area just outside Everett on Feb. 25, 2019, they were confronted with slightly conflicting stories but two consistent facts: Charles Heller pulled the trigger, and Hunt-Bagby died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

Charles Heller claims he fired the gun in self-defense, saying he was afraid Hunt-Bagby was going to choke him, according to charging documents. His daughter, 20-year-old Lauryn Heller, argued that Hunt-Bagby didn’t attack in any way.

Hunt-Bagby, 21, a musician who went by the name PrettyBoi Nabii, had been dating Lauryn Heller for a few weeks before his death. The night he died, they were having wine and watching movies in her room.

Her parents could hear them laughing and talking. They had a rule that she could have company over, but no one could spend the night. They told detectives they didn’t like the people she brought over and considered kicking her out of the house.

Charles Heller and his wife reported they left the house to have dinner. When they got back around 8 p.m., they could still hear that someone was with their daughter. Charles Heller told a detective that he didn’t feel threatened by whoever was at his house, only that he wanted them out. His wife remarked that their daughter sounded happy.

Around 10 p.m., Charles Heller reportedly sent his daughter a text, saying everyone needed to be out by 10:30 p.m. He then grabbed a loaded handgun and put it on the coffee table in front of him, his wife told detectives.

When no one left at 10:30, Charles Heller knocked on his daughter’s door and reminded her company needed to leave.

Lauryn Heller figured she’d try to trick her father. She’d done it before, she reported. She left the house by herself, turning off the light behind her, while Hunt-Bagby hid underneath the bed.

Her parents said that made them more concerned, since they knew someone was over. Charles Heller went up to search the room, armed with the loaded handgun. He told a detective it was “better to be safe than sorry,” though he reportedly acknowledged he had never armed himself when he searched his daughter’s room in the past.

A detective asked him what was different this time.

“Something didn’t feel right about the situation,” he said, according to charging papers. “When she walked out by herself and me knowing that someone was still in there, something didn’t feel right.”

He searched the room two separate times. The second time, he looked under the bed, to find Hunt-Bagby wearing only underwear and an undershirt.

When she was outside, Lauryn Heller told detectives, she saw the light turn on, then off.

Then it turned on again. Thirty seconds passed. She heard her father yelling.

She ran back up, she reported, and saw her father and Hunt-Bagby on opposite sides of the room, across the bed from each other. He yelled at Hunt-Bagby to get dressed and get out. The younger man appeared to be complying with the request, Charles Heller later told a detective. He reported he didn’t see a weapon.

Lauryn Heller recounted her story in a video posted on YouTube, as part of an effort to bring attention to the case.

“I saw my dad standing there with a gun, and I jumped in front of him,” she said in the video, “because I thought if he saw me, maybe he’d put it down and stop.”

According to her, her father’s finger was on the trigger.

“This point was important to Lauryn, and played a large role in her fear because her father, formerly in the military, has training in handling firearms and had taught her that you do not put your finger on the trigger unless you are prepared to shoot,” deputy prosecutor Bob Langbehn wrote in charging papers.

According to both the father and daughter, Hunt-Bagby reached out. Charles Heller reported he thought Hunt-Bagby was trying to choke him. Lauryn Heller said he was only trying to move the gun away so it was no longer pointing at them.

The three of them reportedly fell to the bed during the short scuffle.

Charles Heller reported he stood up, aimed at Hunt-Bagby’s shoulder, and fired once.

“He admitted that he never thought about punching the victim or hitting him with the gun, and that the shooting was entirely intentional (rather than the gun accidentally going off) because, according to him, he was afraid the victim was trying to choke him,” Langbehn wrote.

Lauryn Heller made the first call to 911. She was frantic. Someone was shot, she said. Someone needed to show up “immediately.”

The second call came from Charles Heller’s wife. She was calm. “Yeah, I need the police at our house, we have someone at our house we don’t want,” she reportedly said.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived, Lauryn Heller was on the front porch, hysterical, according to charging odcuments. “My dad shot him,” she told the deputies.

Charles Heller was inside, applying pressure to Hunt-Bagby’s wound. Hunt-Bagby was no longer breathing. Deputies attempted to revive him, but couldn’t.

Hunt-Bagby never was able to tell police his side of the story. According to Lauryn Heller, the only thing he said before dying was, “I’ve been shot.”

A Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun was on the kitchen table. On the floor in a bedroom was an ammunition clip with one bullet missing. The medical examiner retrieved a bullet from Hunt-Bagby’s back that matched those found in the clip.

Charles Heller wasn’t arrested that night. The investigation was held up for a year and a half as the sheriff’s office waited for evidence to be processed by the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.

In the meantime, friends and family said they felt the death of Hunt-Bagby had been swept under the rug. They held a demonstration outside the Snohomish County Courthouse. They started a Facebook page called “Justice for Dustyn Coalition,” where they shared pictures of Hunt-Bagby and his music. But the group could provide few updates on the case, because for a long time there were none.

For now, Charles Heller remains free pending trial.

Hunt-Bagby’s mother, Lisa Ledbetter, responded to a request for comment via text message:

“Me and my family have been waiting and waiting for some kind of justice and the longer we waited, a little faith and hope was lost every day. I started to lose any type of hope for justice. I felt like it was slowly being forgotten about and brushed aside. I know no matter what, nothing will bring my son back or take away from the everyday pain of knowing I will never see him again. He will never get married, have kids, have a career, come to family dinners, meet his new little sister, but this decision does make the pain a little easier to handle knowing justice will be served to the man who did this, and his life will be uncomfortable and he will not just be walking around like nothing happened. It also has made it so I can breathe a bit better. Some of the anger I have inside, which is quite a bit, has been lifted.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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