Kathy Gaarde, 62, of Woodbridge, Va.

When she was not commuting to Washington for her job as a financial analyst for Navy shipyards, Kathleen Gaarde, 63, could often be found repairing birdhouses and counting bluebirds in a Virginia wildlife refuge.

"This was something she really enjoyed doing," Amanda Daisey, the assistant manager for the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge, said in a telephone interview. Gaarde was the person they called to prepare parts of the refuge for the yearly migration of bluebirds, she said.

"She was an important volunteer for us," Daisey said. At least once a week in the spring and summer months, Gaarde would lead a team of volunteers to check the bluebird nests and take an accurate count of the birds that biologists used to track the health of the population in the area.

"She loved her animals and was a bluebird counter for the local refuge," Gaarde's husband, Douglass, said in a statement left on the doorstep of his home at the end of a wooded cul-de-sac in Woodbridge, 30 miles south of the Navy Yard complex.

Kathleen, who was called Kathy by her friends and family, was born and raised in Chicago and graduated from Florida State University. She and Douglass were married for 38 years. She had cared for her mother until her mother died at 94 last year. She loved hockey, Douglass wrote in the statement, and was a Washington Capitals season ticket holder for 25 years.

"Kathy was a caring daughter, fantastic mother, wife [of 38 years] and best friend for 43 years," Douglass wrote.

Three women walked out of the two-story house on Tuesday afternoon.

"You will focus on the victims, right?" one woman said. She declined to give her name to a reporter.

-- Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau

Family photo courtesy of Douglas Gaarde
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