AUSTIN — A southern Indiana woman shot her three children and the family dog before setting fire to her home and fatally shooting herself, investigators said Monday as somber classmates of the slain children returned to school three days after the bodies were found.
State police believe 30-year-old Amanda Bennett carried out the triple murder-suicide at the family's home in the Scott County town of Austin, shooting her three children and herself in the head. Her body and those of 14-year-old Jasmine Abbott, 9-year-old Katelynn Bennett and 4-year-old Ryan Bennett were found Friday in the partially burned home after worried relatives asked police to check on the family.
State police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said Monday in a statement that the killings were "a tragic case of murder/suicide that claimed three innocent lives" along with that of the youngsters' mother, the alleged assailant.
"After shooting the children, indications are Amanda Bennett started a fire in the home and then took her own life," Goodin said Monday in a statement.
Friends and neighbors tell The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., that Amanda Bennett was a factory worker along with her husband, who had been laid off since last spring and moved out about a month ago from the home about 35 miles north of Louisville, Ky.
Family friend Karen Barrett told WDRB-TV in Louisville that Amanda Bennett was in the midst of a divorce from her husband but that the family had seemed close.
"He'd get out and play basketball with the kids, she'd sit out on the porch and watch 'em play. You'd never know there was any family trouble, never," Barrett said.
Goodin would not comment on any possible domestic problems.
"That is part of our investigation so there are some things that we don't want to release," he said.
Trooper Mark LaMaster said investigators are looking into whether Amanda Bennett may have posted comments on the Internet prior to the shootings that alluded to her intention to kill her children.
Preliminary death findings showed that Amanda and Katelynn Bennett died from a combination of gunshot wound to the head and smoke inhalation. The two other siblings died from a gunshot wound to the head, Goodin said.
The family dog was shot but was recovering Monday at a veterinary clinic in Scott County, police said.
A makeshift memorial set up on the front steps of the family's modular home included a flickering candle set surrounded by teddy bears and other animals left by relatives and neighbors. Two roses also were left on the windshield of a car parked in the driveway, WAVE-TV of Louisville reported.
Betty Hensley, who lives near the family, told the station that she's at a loss to understand the killings.
"Why, why — I'm asking why? Why did this happen to these people? I mean these were good people, why did this happen? And I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I sure don't know," Hensley said.
Extra counselors were on hand Monday as students returned to school for the first time since word of the shootings was announced Friday evening. Jasmine Abbott was a freshman at Austin High School, Katelynn was a fourth-grader and Ryan was a preschool student.
Kenneth Kidd, the assistant superintendent of the Scott County School District, said the mood was generally somber Monday at the district schools where the siblings had attended classes.
"We still have a few rambunctious ones over there today, but mostly it's somber," Kidd told WDRB.
Austin High School Principal Sherman Smith told WAVE that counselors at the school worked Monday to try to comfort mourning students but obviously could not explain for them why the tragedy occurred.
"It's a grief we don't know how to prepare for," Smith said. "We deal with it the best we can. We know what we know and that's all we know. We don't have the answers for our kids."