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Man sets fire to house before suicide
Police believe love triangle set off husband
This home at 1616 Flower Garden Court was the scene of a tragic suicide and fire believed to be set by Stephen Epperson, 32, of Ceres. The fire gutted the house since firefighters were unable to make entry out of concerns that the gunman might shoot intruders. - photo by Courtesy of Ceres Police

A home in the 1600 block of Flower Garden Court was set on fire by a despondent Ceres man who earlier had chased down his wife and her male companion with a handgun.

A call was made to 911 before 8 p.m. on Saturday reporting that a man was trying to remove a woman out of a car in the garage and driveway at gunpoint on Flower Garden Court. By the time officers arrived they found the front window of 1616 Flower Garden Court broken out. According to witnesses, the resident of the home and the woman were in her car and backing out of the garage when the woman's husband ran up with a gun. Ceres Police Detective Sgt. Danny Vierra said police believe the woman moved the car forward into the garage when her husband, Stephen Epperson, 32, of Ceres, approached. Vierra said the car's window was broken and a gun magazine was on the ground but none of the parties were around.

Witnesses told police that the woman and man ran into the house and that Epperson chased after them, gaining access by breaking the front window. The pair managed to escape the house out the back as Epperson was entering the house in the front. Officers scoured the area and found the victims. The woman told officers that the man with the gun was her husband.

Police surrounded the house and set up a perimeter as the Ceres Crisis Response Team tried to make contact with Epperson by phone. The suspect identified himself as Epperson. After several hours of negotiations to get Epperson to surrender, a single gunshot was heard from inside the residence and all communications were lost. Approximately 15 minutes later the residence was fully engulfed by fire.

"He didn't indicate that he was going to shoot himself," said Sgt. Vierra. "We actually thought he was going to come out."

Vierra reported that the couple was having marital problems and that Epperson had lost his job and his wife was financially supporting the family. The couple had one child together and individually had a child apiece from other unions.

Because the armed suspect was possibly alive in the house, Ceres firefighters were not allowed to go inside the house so firefighting activities were limited to the outside. The house was a total loss, said Sgt. Vierra.

Detectives searched the damaged house and at approximately 9 a.m. Sunday morning found a body matching Epperson's description in the rubble. The remains were turned over to the Stanislaus County Coroner's Office for identification.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Ceres Police Detective Trinidad Viramontes at 538-5730 or Ceres Police Dispatch Center at 538-5712.