MESQUITE -- One man placed a bouquet of white and yellow flowers at Donna Fairchild's empty City Council seat before Tuesday's 5 p.m. meeting began.
In the crowd, people's faces showed shock and sorrow.
Earlier in the day, the tight-knit community -- about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas -- learned that the elected official and her husband, Bill Fairchild, were found dead in their home from single gunshots in what appeared to be a murder-suicide.
The council had been set to decide whether Donna Fairchild would be expelled from her post.
According to the council agenda, she faced possible removal from office for submitting a travel voucher for a trip to a meeting she did not attend.
Mayor Susan Holecheck told residents the council was required to proceed with the meeting.
"Today's tragedy has presented this community with terrible sorrow," said an emotional Holecheck, who asked to withdraw the agenda items about Fairchild. "I'm confident we can pull together as a community and work through this grief."
As Holecheck spoke, some audience members sniffled and wiped their eyes.
The deaths of the Fairchilds, who were described by many as "inseparable," left many at a loss to explain the tragedy. Some speculated that local politics might have contributed to the murder-suicide.
"I wonder as a community if we could have done something had we known," said Loretta Corpe, a seven-year resident of Mesquite. "It's a real loss to the community to lose these powerful leaders."
Corpe described Donna Fairchild, 52, as a bright woman who was always prepared to tackle the issues of the day as a councilwoman.
A memo written by Mesquite City Attorney Cheryl Truman Hunt alleged that Fairchild did not attend a Jan. 4 Nevada Development Authority meeting in Las Vegas, although she filed a travel reimbursement form for $94.60.
In the memo, Hunt accused Fairchild of fraudulently presenting a claim to a public officer, a gross misdemeanor, and violating the council code of conduct.
The Mesquite Police Department said officers were called to the couple's home at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Officers found the Fairchilds, each dead from a single gunshot wound. It was unclear who fired the fatal shots. The Clark County coroner's office will conduct autopsies. Results are expected to take four to six weeks.
Carol Thatcher, a five-year resident of Mesquite, said she knew Bill Fairchild, 62, from his part-time job at the community's recreation center. She described him as a "Mr. Personality," who greeted her several times a week at the front desk with a smile.
The couple, married for more than 20 years, always seemed "very close," she said.
Thatcher, like many others, said she had trouble accepting the news when she heard the two were dead.
"I couldn't believe it from knowing him outwardly," she said. "But we don't know what people think and feel inside."
Mesquite resident Vick Minton doubted that Donna Fairchild's political controversy was connected to the deaths.
"She was a stronger person than that," said Minton, who didn't personally know the councilwoman.
There were signs that the issue was taking a toll on Fairchild.
Karyn Quinn, who lives across from the Fairchilds' house and would see the couple retrieving their mail, said she had a brief conversation with Donna Fairchild on Saturday.
Quinn said she saw Fairchild speaking with a neighbor and asked her how she was doing.
Quinn said Fairchild responded: "Oh, not good. You obviously haven't read the paper."
Quinn hoped that the controversy didn't play a role in her death. She said it was most likely a coincidence that the council was set to address the matter Tuesday night.
"I'm shocked something that small can tip someone over," Quinn said. "It's got to be more than that."
Donna and Bill Fairchild lived in a gated community built around a golf course. On Tuesday afternoon, an orange warning sticker was on the front door, near a gold nameplate: "The Fairchilds."
The sticker, from the Clark County public administrator's office, warned people to "keep out under penalty of law."
The councilwoman's possible misconduct became public after Nevada Development Authority President Somer Hollingsworth, angry about Donna Fairchild's statements to a local newspaper in a Jan. 11 story, sent an e-mail to Holecheck on Jan. 13.
Hollingsworth said Fairchild, who was Mesquite's representative on the NDA, unfairly criticized the organization in the article when she questioned whether the city was "getting the bang for their buck" with the NDA.
It was "unfortunate that Donna wasn't at the last board meeting or maybe we could have avoided this problem," he wrote in the e-mail.
Hollingsworth's assistant later sent e-mails to Hunt listing the meeting dates Fairchild did not attend.
According to an online city profile, Fairchild served as a councilwoman from 2001 to 2007 and was re-elected to the position in 2009. She did not run in 2007 to help her mother, who had cancer.
Many at the meeting thought that Fairchild had been gearing up to run for mayor in a few months.
Fairchild, who was born in Germany, moved to Mesquite in 1999 after she and her husband both retired from the Denver Police Department, according to the profile.
A statement from the office of the mayor and City Council's office read: "It is with a heavy heart that we make this announcement. Mesquite has lost two citizens that have devoted their life to public service. On behalf of myself and the City Council, this is a tremendous loss to our community and we express our deepest sympathies to the Fairchilds' family, loved ones and friends."
Former Mesquite Mayor Bill Nicholes served with Fairchild for four years and counted her and her husband as friends. He said Bill Fairchild was a Vietnam veteran and a Purple Heart recipient.
Nicholes said he lowered the flag in front of his house to half staff in the Fairchilds' honor.
Chad Frei, who worked at the city's bustling recreation center Tuesday evening, said the Fairchilds were an amazing couple who often acted like "newlyweds" because they were so affectionate.
Frei said Bill Fairchild had worked at the recreation center since it opened a decade ago. Frei once asked Fairchild why he took the job. Fairchild told him he had seen a lot of death from his days in law enforcement. He then told Frei to listen to the children laughing.
"That's why I'm here," Frei recalled Fairchild saying.
Review-Journal writer Henry Brean contributed to this report. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at email@example.com or 702-383-0283