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‘She meant love’: Beloved fire and rescue employee dies as victim of tragic murder-suicide and arson in house near the park named after her history-making father

Gwendolyn Bass-Kemp appears inset against the burning home in which she died

Gwendolyn Bass-Kemp appears, inset, against the burning home in which she died on May 11, 2023. (Screengrab via WPLG; Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue)

A public servant is dead in Florida after what law enforcement believe is a murder-suicide that ended with a blazing inferno.

Gwen Bass-Kemp, 71, worked as a billing specialist for Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, authorities said. On Thursday, she was shot and killed by Richard Kenneth McDonald, 71, who later shot and killed himself.

The victim and her suspected killer were a couple, friends told Miami-based ABC affiliate WPLG. They reportedly lived together for years in the house on NW 27th Terrace in the Lake Aire neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. By Thursday night, that house had been burnt to disuse.

A telling 911 call came in at around 8:30 p.m. that day.

Bass-Kemp’s son relayed the coming violence in the call released by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Friday.

“I went to go visit my mom, and I walked in on my mom’s boyfriend, and he sat there…he pulled a gun out on me…like he is a military vet…I know he has a license to carry or whatever,” the victim’s son says.

“Shut up, dude!” the caller can be heard saying at another point.” The only reason I’m leaving is because he pulled a gun on me!”

As officers arrived, McDonald grabbed a gun, holed up inside the residence, and then set it on fire, police said.

“The suspect, who barricaded himself, exited the home, and he shot himself in the front area of the home,” FLPD spokesperson Detective Ali Adamson told WPLG. “The adult female was inside of the home.”

At first, investigators were unsure if the two incidents were related.

“At this time, we’re still working to determine if the shooting we originally responded to was the female that was found deceased,” Adamson said. “We believe that to be the case at this time, but we have to confirm that with the fire and the damage that the fire caused. It can make the investigation a little more complicated.”

A joint investigation by law enforcement and the public service agency for which the victim herself worked confirmed those suspicions.

“Our fire crews were on standby at a safe distance to make sure that the fire did not spread to any of the homes in the surrounding area,” Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue spokesperson Steve Gollan told CBS News. “To make sure that it stayed confined to the home where the incident was taking place. Once the situation was determined to be safe, at that time our firefighters were able to make entry.”

When crews were finally able to make their way inside what was left of the home, Bass-Kemp’s body was found. She had been shot.

According to city officials, Bass-Kemp worked 18 years with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.

“Gwen’s loss is tragic and unthinkable,” Fort Lauderdale City Manager Greg Chavarria said in a statement. “She was a valued employee for nearly 20 years, and our colleagues are mourning her loss deeply. Our hearts go out to her family during this difficult time, and we ask that they be given the space and time to grieve.”

The victim’s family was left reeling.

“She meant a lot to the family,” her cousin, Antoine Jones, said in a statement obtained by CBS News. “She meant love. She was good people. As a person, she was lovely. She was a good loving mother. I don’t feel good. I don’t believe this happened because she was such a good person. She was a damn good person. She would help you if she can.”

Bass-Kemp’s father, James Bass, is widely known as the first Black dentist to ever set up a practice in Fort Lauderdale.

The house where she died was located just around the corner from Bass Park, a park named by the city after her trailblazing father.

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