Lafourche gunman targeted wife, ex-boss, former in-laws

The shotgun blasts on a rural road here Thursday evening did not, at first, alarm the neighbors. In a small town unaccustomed to violence, they assumed it was thunder or firecrackers.

But inside his house, Lafourche Parish Councilman Louis Phillip Gouaux, shot through the throat, was frantically dialing 911. His wife lay dead and his daughter was injured.

Gouaux’s estranged former son-in-law, a nurse with a history of mental illness, had just fired the first shots in a massacre that would span two parishes, end four lives and leave another three injured.

Ben Freeman, 38, was apparently settling scores as he gunned down his enemies, one by one, then shot himself in his sport utility vehicle, parked near Bayou Blue.

One victim — perhaps his first — was his new wife, 43-year-old Denise Taylor Freeman, whom he married in June and lived with on Louis Drive in Houma. Her body was found in their bathtub late Thursday. An autopsy determined that she had been both strangled and drowned.

Next, he targeted his ex-wife’s family, living on Hyland Drive in Lockport, more than 20 miles away.

Freeman had for years been battling with Jeanne Gouaux Freeman, the mother of his four young children and, for 14 years, his wife.

Her father, the parish councilman, had come to her aid during the bitter, protracted divorce and custody dispute. They’d exchanged protective orders. Freeman continued to send them vicious and threatening text messages, sometimes 30 a day, despite a court order to leave them alone. The Gouauxes filed criminal harassment charges against him earlier this year.

Freeman arrived at their house about 6:40 p.m., armed with a shotgun, police said. He opened fire on his former father-in-law; his former mother-in-law, Susan; and the couple’s daughter, Andrea, the sister of Freeman’s ex-wife.

Susan “Pixie” Gouaux, a teachers’ aide at nearby Holy Savior Elementary School, was shot multiple times in the chest. She was dead by the time deputies arrived.

Her husband, who was shot in the neck, and her daughter were being treated at Interim LSU Public Hospital in New Orleans. Both were in stable condition late Friday.

Within an hour, Freeman next turned up 15 miles to the north at the Raceland home of Milton Bourgeois, 67, the longtime administrator of Ochsner St. Anne General Hospital, where both Freeman and his wife had worked.

He killed Bourgeois at close range and then shot his wife of 41 years, Ann, in the leg. She was also taken to Interim LSU Hospital, where she was in stable condition Friday.

Freeman resigned from his job at St. Anne after a violent outburst amid the chaos of his divorce from Jeanne Gouaux Freeman in early 2011.

David Gaines, an Ochsner executive, noted that the hospital is a “tight-knit community,” so Bourgeois and Freeman knew each other. He described their relationship as “amicable.”

After Bourgeois’ murder, authorities put three area hospitals where Freeman had worked on lockdown and announced a manhunt for Freeman’s capture.

The wanted man, at some point, pulled over on the side of U.S. 90 near Bayou Blue. He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Warning signs

Freeman’s criminal record is limited, but his ex-wife had predicted he would eventually turn violent.

“I don’t trust him and I am terrified,” Jeanne Gouaux Freeman once wrote to a judge.

The couple married in 1997, according to court records. Freeman built their home on Seventh Street, just a few blocks away from the Gouaux family home. They had four children together, now 11, 8, 7 and 4.

Neighbors said the family at first seemed happy, and Freeman appeared to be a loving and attentive father. One neighbor said he saw a police cruiser at the house once but didn’t know why it had come.

But the last few years of their marriage were rocky: He filed for divorce in 2010. They soon reconciled, then separated again.

Freeman’s rage began to surface at St. Anne, where he’d worked for more than a decade as a nurse.

Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre said deputies reported to the hospital in spring 2011 after Freeman damaged a room there in a fit of anger, according to the Houma Courier. Webre said Freeman had promised to seek mental health treatment after the incident.

Freeman resigned from the hospital, although Gaines said he left in good standing and remained eligible to be rehired.

A month later, in May 2011, his wife filed for divorce.

She told the judge that she and her husband had been separated for months and that he stalked and harassed her; he had “violent outbursts and tendencies,” she wrote in asking for a restraining order.

As the divorce progressed, the situation grew more volatile.

Jeanne Gouaux was granted custody, with Freeman offered visitation.

But Freeman ignored his child-support mandates and eventually owed his ex-wife more than $22,000, according to court records.

On July 2, 2012, two months after the divorce was finalized, Jeanne Gouaux filed for a protective order. Days earlier, she wrote, she picked up her kids from Freeman and took them to the Hyland Drive home she shared with her mother and father.

Freeman called her, screaming that she’d kidnapped his children.

“He called me and was yelling and threatening me,” she wrote in her request for a protective order. “He arrived at my home soon thereafter in a rage. He was banging on my doors and windows and trying to enter my home in order to take the children.”

Freeman threatened both her and her parents, she wrote. And he had a history of harassment: He’d held her car door open and refused to let her leave. He sent her constant and abusive text messages, calling her a whore and insulting her family. He screamed and cursed at her in front of their children, she said.

Reasons for fear

Freeman was a big man, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. She was particularly afraid, she wrote, because he has “some mental health issues.”

Freeman responded days later by filing an application for a protective order of his own, against his ex-wife’s father, Councilman Gouaux.

His counternarrative of the events of that day was rambling and self-righteous. He called it a “standoff” and referred to himself in the third person, as “the father.”

He wrote that his ex-wife had kidnapped their children, and that Louis Phillip Gouaux denied him his “fatherly rights” and “inhibited father from court-determined fatherly custody time.”

He alleged that the councilman shoved him “unprovokedly,” with the warning: “I’m gonna put a bullet in your head.”

“What, for me having legal access to my own children?” Freeman wrote that he responded. “Go ahead, keep breaking the law.”

For months, he continued hassling them.

On April 17, Jeanne Gouaux called the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office to report vulgar and threatening text messages. A deputy called Freeman and warned him to contact her only about their children, according to civil and criminal court records.

Weeks later, on May 12, Mother’s Day, she called the sheriff again. She said her ex-husband had continued to text both her and her father. She showed the text messages to a deputy.

“I guess you’re just a drunk loudmouth nobody,” he wrote once. “I don’t wreck my homes I wrecked your lil hoar house.”

He wrote of his distaste for her family. He called them “no good f----” and “the voices in your head.”

He’d written Councilman Gouaux again, too.

“Hey fat f--- you think you scare me?” he wrote.

The councilman told the deputy “he has had enough and would like to press charges.” His daughter agreed, and Freeman was booked with two counts of telephone harassment, his only criminal charges in Lafourche Parish. He pleaded guilty on Oct. 23, was fined $250 and sentenced to a year of probation.

But meanwhile he had embarked on another fraught relationship, with another woman.

He married Denise Taylor Freeman in June and moved into the house on Louis Drive that she shared with her young son, neighbor Glenn Cradeur told The Associated Press. A few months later, in November, neighbors noticed police cars outside their house.

The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office confirmed that deputies were called to the house on the day before Thanksgiving. They cited Freeman for simple battery against his wife. He was scheduled to appear in court next month.

Slow recovery begins

A relative of Denise Freeman who was at the Houma home she shared with Ben Freeman refused to speak to a reporter and ordered him off the property, threatening to get a gun if the family was bothered again.

Those who survived Freeman’s rampage began their slow recovery on Friday.

Both Phillip Gouaux, 61, and his daughter, Andrea, 40, were responsive and listed in critical but stable condition, Sheriff Webre said. Andrea Gouaux, a nurse in Texas, who was home visiting for the holidays, suffered damage to her spinal cord.

Ann Bourgeois, 51, underwent surgery for a gunshot wound to her leg. She was being transferred to Ochsner Medical Center in Kenner, Webre said.

Those who didn’t survive were remembered by their friends and colleagues.

Milton Bourgeois became CEO of St. Anne in 1988 and was instrumental in helping improve health care in the region, said Michael Hulefeld, Ochsner’s chief operating officer. Bourgeois was a veteran, a philanthropist and a respected member of the medical community, he said.

“We are terribly shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic passing of our dear friend and colleague,” Hulefeld said.

The Gouaux family is equally well-regarded in the small community.

Parish President Charlotte Randolph said Susan, called “Pixie” by those who knew her, was accomplished at needlepoint and knitting.

She created Lafourche Parish’s square on the state bicentennial quilt and handcrafted scarves for her friends.

She and her husband, the parish councilman for District 7, had six grown daughters.

“They are all great people,” said Rita Bonvillain, a neighbor for nearly 30 years. “They are assets to the community.”

Bonvillain described Pixie Gouaux as a loving person and Louis Gouaux as a man who put others first, always offering a hand before he could be asked.

“If he can help you, he’ll help you in any way,” Bonvillain said.

Another neighbor, Danielle Adams, said she moved across the street from the family two years ago with two young sons. Gouaux welcomed them to the neighborhood and put up signs warning drivers to slow down and watch for the boys playing in the street.

Adams and her family were shocked by the spasm of violence in their peaceful community.

“They are the neighbors you want to have,” she said. “It’s just sick. It’s just sick and twisted. For this to happen, it’s just unreal.”