Amara Schaffhausen., 11, Sophie Schaffhausen, 8 and Cecilia Schaffhausen, 5 were killed by their father Aaron Schaffhausen, 34
A family member says he knew Aaron Schaffhausen was hurting after his divorce, but he didn't realize how much.
Schaffhausen is in jail, a suspect in the deaths of his three girls. The bodies of Amara Schaffhausen, age 11, eight-year-old Sophie and five-year-old Cecilia were found in their River Falls home around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Police say Schaffhausen has been living in Minot, North Dakota after he and Jessica Schaffhausen divorced. The children were at home with a babysitter on Tuesday until he came to visit. Jessica later called police saying she was concerned about the safety of her kids because of statements her ex-husband had made. When police went to the home, they discovered the bodies of the girls. There was no one else inside. Police are not saying how the girls died. Autopsies are being done.
Ethan Fix is Aaron Schaffhausen's cousin. He lived with the family two years ago and said things were good at that time. He said he last spoke with Aaron about six months ago. At the time, Aaron said he was having a very hard time. "Nobody really knew what was going on. He wanted to be left alone. Nobody really knew he was in such a dark place," said Fix.
"I don't know the details of what happened or what was going through his head, but it just hurts to know that he had planned it out and he had to have thought about it, which makes me know that he was mentally unstable and something should've been done to get him help," said Fix, who shared some memories about the young girls. "Amara was smart and she was going to be a rocket scientist some day. She had the most amazing personality and you couldn't tell she was 11 years old. She could talk to you for hours and always had something to say. Sophie was spunky and had the attitude. Cecilia was so young and just kind of tagged along with her sisters and tried to fit in. She was sweet and always happy and had a smile that would lift anybody's spirits. The girls were so sweet and they did love their father and he loved them. I just think he had a mental psychotic break and lost it."
RIVER FALLS, WI - A man suspected of killing his three young daughters unexpectedly contacted their mother Tuesday, asking to stop by for a visit. He later called her to say he had hurt the girls, police said Wednesday, and, soon after, authorities found their bodies in the River Falls home.
Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, was being held Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide, city administrator Scot Simpson said. Formal charges are pending, and he is expected to be arraigned Thursday.
Officers discovered the bodies of 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen, 8-year-old Sophie Schaffhausen and 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen on Tuesday after their mother called police, Simpson said.
Police are still investigating exactly how the girls died and what might have led up to the killings.
"It's certainly the worst that we've seen," police Chief Roger Leque said of the crime.
A marriage announcement in The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register shows Aaron Schaffhausen and Jessica Schaffhausen married in 2000.
The couple filed for divorce jointly last year, and it was finalized in January. They were awarded joint legal custody of the girls, although Jessica Schaffhausen had primary physical custody and had control over health care, education and other decisions.
Leque said during a news conference Wednesday that Aaron Schaffhausen lived in Minot, N.D. He contacted his ex-wife on Tuesday and asked for an unplanned visit with the girls.
Jessica Schaffhausen, who wasn't home, agreed. Her ex-husband arrived at the River Falls home the girls shared with their mother, and when he arrived, the girls' baby sitter left, Leque said.
Sometime later, Aaron Schaffhausen called his ex-wife and told her he had "harmed" the children, as Leque put it. She, in turn, called police while driving home.
Police arrived to find the gas fireplace on the home's first floor was turned on, Leque said. They smelled what Leque described as a flammable liquid in the basement, but the chief did not say what it was or how it got there. It's unclear what role, if any, the liquid may have played in the deaths -- police are still waiting for the children's autopsy reports.
Leque did not elaborate when asked if there were signs of a struggle, saying authorities were still processing the crime scene.
It's also unclear what may have led up to the incident. Leque said police were called to the house in 2009 for a domestic incident, but he didn't have any details. Leque said police records also show what he called a "harassment incident" in March 2012, in which the father threatened to harm at least one of the girls. Leque said police were unaware of any restraining or protection order.
Schaffhausen turned himself in Tuesday afternoon after the girls' bodies were found. Leque described his demeanor as "non-talkative." It was not immediately clear whether Schaffhausen had an attorney.
The house is located in a newer subdivision on the east side of River Falls, a city of 15,000 about 30 miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul. On Wednesday morning, police had blocked off the streets surrounding the house with tape and barricades.
Neighbor Heather Johnson said the girls were happy, sweet girls who played with her 8-year-old son, Blake Patrow. She said Amara liked to skateboard and play soccer, and Sophie participated in martial arts and Girl Scouts.
She said Blake and Sophie were in the same elementary school class, and Blake has been clingy and doesn't want to sleep alone after learning his friends are gone.
"He doesn't like that he's not going to see his friends anymore," she said.
Grief counselors were called to Greenwood Elementary School, where the older girls attended and the youngest was scheduled to start kindergarten this fall. The school set aside some time to help families and students deal with the loss.
"These girls were bright girls ... with a zest for life," said principal Nate Schurman. "They left a mark on our school."
A Facebook page had been set up to honor the girls. A vigil was planned for Wednesday night at a local park.
RIVER FALLS, Wis. (KMSP) -
Three young sisters murdered inside their River Falls, Wis., home were found dead in their beds with their throats slit and dried blood on their faces, according to murder charges filed Thursday against their father.
Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, of Minot, N.D. is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen, 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen and 8-year-old Sophie Schaffhausen.
According to the charges, the girls' mother got a call from Schaffhausen on Tuesday at 11:45 a.m., saying he was in St. Paul and wanted to see his daughters. His ex-wife said he could visit as long as he was gone by 3:30, because she didn't want to see him.
A babysitter told authorities that Aaron Schaffhausen got to the home at about 1:25 p.m. and the girls rushed to the door, excited to see their father. After a short conversation, the girls went to Amara's room with their father.
The babysitter sent a text to the girls' mother saying he had arrived, and asked whether or not she should stay. The girl's mother told her she could leave, and the babysitter sent a text at 1:44 p.m. to say her mother was picking her up from the home.
At 3:30 p.m., Aaron Schaffhausen called his ex-wife to say, "You can come home now because I killed the kids."
As police were gearing up to search for Schaffhausen, he turned himself into the police station at 4 p.m. -- but he wasn't very talkative.
"The demeanor of the individual was, from my observation, not saying much of anything," said River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque.
Prosecutors believe the two older girls -- Amara and Sophie -- died from their throats being cut. The youngest, Cecilia, died from a cut throat and strangulation.
Investigators said there was a large amount of blood found on the carpet in one of the rooms, and a red gas can had been tipped over under the basement stairs, spilling gasoline on the floor.
Aaron Schaffhausen and his wife, Jessica, divorced in January. The papers were filed jointly, but there are a few signs that the dissolution of the marriage didn't spell the end of trouble for the couple.
"River Falls police records indicate there was a domestic incident in August 2009 at the Morningside residence, and a March 2012 harassment incident where the father allegedly threatened to harm at least one of the children," Leque confirmed.
The March incident refers to a phone call made by Aaron Schaffhausen as he was living in Minot, North Dakota; however, The Minot Police Department's report shows that the threats were made against his wife, not the kids. No charges were ever filed.
Officers in Minot told FOX 9 News they spoke with Schaffhausen, who said he had no intention of going back to Wisconsin.
At this point, it's still unclear what changed between March and July; however, what is clear is that the crime scene was horrific.
"I can tell you, I've been in River Falls for over 34 years and certainly, this is the worst we've seen," said Leque.
Aaron Schaffhausen is being held on $2 million bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for July 24.
The community is reeling from the killings, and grief counselors have been made available to students of Greenwood Elementary School, where 11-year-old Amara and 8-year-old Sophie were supposed to be joined by 5-year-old Cecilia Lee this fall.
A memorial service for the sisters will be held jointly on Tuesday, July 17, at the Kilkarney Hills Golf Club starting at 7 p.m. Visitation will also take place on Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
MADISON, Wis. – A North Dakota man killed his three young daughters after they rushed to greet him during a surprise visit and left their bodies tucked in their beds, Wisconsin authorities said in court documents released Thursday.
St. Croix County prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Each count carries a mandatory life sentence.
Circuit Judge Howard W. Cameron set Schaffhausen's bail at $2 million Thursday and ordered him to have no contact with the girls' mother or her immediate family. Schaffhausen's attorney, listed in online court records as public defender John Kucinski, didn't immediately respond to a telephone message left at his office.
Autopsy results showed 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen, 8-year-old Sophie Schaffhausen and 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen died from "sharp force injury" to the neck. Cecilia also had been strangled, according to the complaint.
The girl's mother, Jessica Schaffhausen, and Aaron Schaffhausen divorced this past January. He lived in Minot while the girls lived with their mother in River Falls, a city of 15,000 about 30 miles east of the Twin Cities, in a house she rented from her ex-husband, according to the complaint.
Investigators wrote in the complaint that Aaron Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife around noon Tuesday and asked for an unplanned visit with the girls. The mother thought he was supposed to be working a construction job in Minot but agreed, telling him to be gone by mid-afternoon because she didn't want to see him.
A Minneapolis Star Tribune report said Aaron Schaffhausen was fired from his job at a St. Paul construction firm on July 5 after he failed to show up for work. The firm had hired him to work on projects in western North Dakota, the newspaper reported. The firm's sales manager did not respond to an Associated Press email inquiry seeking details.
The girls' baby sitter told detectives the girls were so excited to see him when he arrived they rushed to him and took him upstairs to show him their things. The baby sitter followed them upstairs, hugged the girls goodbye and left, the complaint said.
About two hours later, Aaron Schaffhausen called his ex-wife.
"You can come home now because I killed the kids," Jessica Schaffhausen said he told her.
She immediately called police, who found no one home when they reached the house. They discovered the girls tucked into their beds, blankets up their necks. All three had what appeared to be dried blood on their faces and a large amount of blood covered the carpet in a bedroom.
Officers detected an odor they thought at first was natural gas. They later discovered a gasoline container had been tipped over in the basement, spilling its contents.
About an hour after he contacted his ex-wife, Aaron Schaffhausen drove into the River Falls Police Station parking lot and surrendered. Officers noted his shorts were stained with what appeared to be blood. Detectives tried to interview him, according to the complaint, but he said nothing.
The complaint did not say where Jessica Schaffhausen was on Tuesday.
Dawn Simonson, executive director of Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul that helps the elderly live independently, said during a brief telephone interview Thursday morning that Jessica Schaffhausen has worked there since 2009. Schaffhausen, she said, helps people return to their own homes after stints in nursing homes.
Simonson declined to comment further, saying she wanted to respect Schaffhausen's privacy. She didn't immediately return a telephone message later Thursday asking if Schaffhausen had been at work Tuesday.
"We're just so sad and so devastated by this loss," Simonson said Thursday morning.
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