GRESHAM — A woman asked for help after her suicidal husband and their two young daughters vanished Wednesday, leading to police gunfire that ended with the man's death and the discovery of the girls' bodies in the backseat of his burning SUV, authorities said.

The girls, ages 8 and 11, were likely dead before officers spotted the vehicle near Portland, according to Gresham police Sgt. John Rasmussen. It wasn't clear if the gunfire killed the 42-year-old man or if he shot himself, but autopsies set for Thursday will paint a fuller picture on the circumstances surrounding the deaths, he said.

A Portland woman reported that her suicidal husband threatened to hurt the girls before they went missing, Rasmussen said. Authorities searching for the three found the SUV in a gas station parking lot.

When an officer got out of his patrol car, the man lit his own vehicle on fire, Rasmussen said. At least one officer opened fire, then police began searching for the girls and extinguishing the flames.

"They broke into the vehicle, they extracted the daughters," he said of the officers. "Unfortunately, both the 8- and the 11-year-old daughter have been pronounced dead."

It's not yet clear if the suspect fired a weapon or how the girls died. No names have been released.

Rasmussen said the officers tried to revive all three but couldn't. None was injured in the shooting, though several were hurt getting the girls out of the car, which was not fully engulfed in flames, he said.

The officers' injuries were minor and included strains, burns and smoke inhalation, Rasmussen said.

Rhonda Paul lives nearby. Her apartment was cordoned off by police tape, but she made her way out for an appointment. She said she heard something in the early morning but didn't know what to make of it.

"I was in the laundry room, and I thought I heard someone say, 'Freeze' and then I heard a gunshot," she said. "I just got my laundry and went back upstairs."

Several law enforcement agencies were helping investigate, including Oregon State Police, Portland Police Department and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, Rasmussen said.

"It's a horrible and horrific scene for all involved," he said.

The parking lot was surrounded by several police vehicles, and officers erected a white tent canopy over the SUV as they investigated. Some of the windows appeared to be shattered.

A visibly upset man crossed the police tape to leave a handful of red roses and some candles, but he was quickly shooed away by police.