SPRING Texas (Reuters) - A man accused of fatally shooting four children ages 4 to 14 and their parents after entering their suburban Houston home disguised as a FedEx delivery man while looking for his former wife was charged with capital murder on Thursday.
Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, went to the home searching for his former wife, who is related to the victims, and held the children at gunpoint until their parents returned, authorities said. He then brought all seven family members into a room and shot them, killing all except a teenage girl, authorities said.
“I’ve not personally in 40 years seen a tragedy in one family this horrific,” Harris County Constable Ron Hickman told reporters.
Haskell, who formerly worked for a contractor used by FedEx, is being held without bail. In Texas, the charge of capital murder carries the possibility of the death penalty.
Police in Logan, Utah, said in a statement that Haskell and his then-wife lived in the city from 2006 to 2013. They said they had once arrested him for domestic assault and violence but the charges were dropped after he accepted a plea deal. Police in Texas said Haskell carried a California driver’s license.
Haskell is alleged to have killed two boys ages 4 and 14, two girls ages 7 and 9, and their parents Stephen Stay, 39, and Katie, 33. Five of them were found dead and one of the children died after being flown to a hospital for treatment. A 15-year-old daughter survived the attack, the sheriff’s office said.
Local media reported that the family was bound and each member shot execution style, but police would not confirm the reports.
“Stephen and Katie Stay and their beautiful children were an amazing and resilient family. They lived to help others, both at church and in their neighborhood. We love them beyond words,” Katie Stay’s father, Roger Lyon, said in a statement issued by the family.
“We are shocked and devastated by this tragedy that has taken these precious souls away from us,” Lyon said, adding the teenage daughter who survived the shooting, Cassidy Stay, was expected to make a full recovery.
The suspect’s former wife did not live at the house and was not harmed in the incident.
Another shooting spree may have been thwarted by Cassidy, who suffered a bullet wound to the head and called police to alert them about the gunmen, police said. Cassidy, left for dead, managed to call the 911 emergency number and informed authorities the gunman was headed to the home of relatives nearby, police said.
“We are in awe of her bravery and courage in calling 911, an act that is likely to have saved all of our lives. She is our hero,” the family statement said.
Police intercepted Haskell, sparking a slow-speed car chase through tree-lined roads and past houses with wide yards that came to a halt when he was trapped on a dead-end street.
Haskell was taken into custody after a four-hour standoff on Wednesday night.
Neighbors described the Stay family as kind and cheerful, and expressed shock at what had unfolded in their normally quiet suburb.
“We don’t know why this happened,” said neighbor Paul Anthony Slawinski. “This man, his wife and children were the definition of compassion and charity.”
A February 2013 post on Stephen Stay’s Facebook page said he was able to open his own real estate company with the help of his wife. Katie Stay’s page has a picture of the smiling family dressed in light blue shirts sitting together on a swing.
FedEx said in a statement that Haskell was once employed by a contractor used by the shipping company but had not worked for that company since January. “Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to all those involved in this tragic incident,” FedEx said.
Haskell’s arraignment was scheduled for Friday.
Reporting and writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney