TOLEDO, Ohio - Letters found after an Ohio murder-suicide that killed three children indicate it was orchestrated by their grandmother and uncle, who were found dead with the youngsters in the family garage amid a disagreement over who should care for them, police said Tuesday.
Firefighters used a sledgehammer on Monday to force open a barricaded door to the garage, where a truck was running with hoses leading from the exhaust into the car that contained the bodies, police said.
Investigators said the relatives may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Two dogs and a cat also were found dead.
The family members were identified as 54-year-old Sandy Ford, her 32-year-old son, Andy Ford, and her grandchildren, 10-year-old Paige Hayes, 6-year-old Logan Hayes and 5-year-old Madalyn Hayes.
Until last week, the children had lived with Sandy Ford and her husband Randy at the house in a residential neighbourhood close to the Michigan state line. Andy Ford also lived at the home.
Randy Ford called police Monday to say that he returned home and found suspicious notes in the house from his wife, son and grandkids. He said he wasn't able to enter the garage.
The barricaded door and the letters made it "very evident that it was a murder-suicide situation," Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said Tuesday. He wouldn't offer details about what was in the notes.
There were no signs that the children were forced into the car, he said.
Police said Sandy Ford had been distressed about a change in who was to care for her grandchildren.
Children's services representatives and a family friend said the children's mother, Mandy Hayes, had asked their grandmother to care for them about three years ago because a fourth child at the home was becoming disruptive.
But Hayes recently decided they should all return home, and the children moved back into their parents' home last week, upsetting Hayes' mother, said the friend, Cammie Turner.
"Mandy wasn't taking the kids away from her entirely," Turner said. "She wanted them home. It wasn't like she was taking them and grandma could never see them again."
Children services workers met with both sides of the family within the past week, most recently on Saturday, said Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Children Services.
"We only know that there were a lot of allegations back and forth," he said, adding that the grandmother was worried about placing the children back in the home with their 9-year-old brother, who had been disruptive in the past.
But the agency had no authority to decide who should keep the children, he said, and the parents had every right to bring them back into their home.
While the children were living with their grandparents, Hayes and her husband saw them often and went on outings to parks and the zoo, Turner said.
Turner said she never saw any indication of a strained relationship between Hayes and her mother, and they never went to court over the issue of custody.
Family members declined to comment.
Doug Hall, a neighbour who lives across the street, said he saw the Fords' son and the children raking leaves last week. He said the only unusual thing he's noticed was a police car at the house last Thursday. He said he didn't know why it was there.
Another neighbour said he saw the kids helping with the yard work and playing in the leaves just a few days ago.
"One minute they're doing the leaves, and then the next there are cop cars all over," Eric Pieper said.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.