The bodies of a mother and her three children were recovered from a Ramsey County lake on Saturday, in what authorities are calling a likely triple homicide.
Searchers pulled the first of four bodies from Vadnais Lake in Vadnais Heights on Friday night, and the other three on Saturday morning. All three children, two boys and a girl, were under age 6, Ramsey County Undersheriff Mike Martin said Saturday at an on-site press briefing.
“Our hearts go out to the families involved here and their friends,” Martin said. “Our goal was to find the children and the mother and to return them to their families, and we’re glad we were able to do that.”
Authorities did not release their identities or comment on the exact manner of death. The bodies are now with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office.
Authorities began searching for the woman and her children on Friday afternoon after police in Maplewood responded to a mobile home court on the report of the suicide of an adult male. That in turn led to a search by authorities for a woman, reported to be suicidal, and her three children.
Martin said the woman’s cell phone led police to Vadnais-Sucker Lake Regional Park, where they found her abandoned car and other items, including childrens’ shoes, around 4 pm That prompted police and firefighters to set up a command post for a search-and rescue operation at Vadnais Lake.
Although the lake is close to busy Interstate-694 off Rice Street, the setting itself is peaceful, featuring a walking and bike path, and shoreline fishing.
The first body was found around 7:30 pm Friday; the search continued into the evening until about 3 am and resumed three hours later on Saturday morning. The two boys were the first pulled from the lake, then the mother, then the girl. By 11 am, all four had been retrieved from the water.
The lake is fairly shallow, with depths between 5 to 10 feet deep, said Ramsey County Water Patrol Commander Eric Bradt.
Martin said boats with sonar capabilities helped locate the bodies on the lake’s eastern side, but the search was done visually, as well. “Basically, in the end, it’s identifying possible objects of interest and sending diverse in [who] physically search and locate the victims,” he said.
Bradt said the search was also difficult emotionally. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he said. “This was one of the more-difficult ones.”
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher called it a “probably triple homicide” on Friday night, and authorities said Saturday they continued to investigate it as a “possible triple murder-suicide.” Martin said police believe the Maplewood and Vadnais Lake incidents are related.
Authorities have not yet released the names of any of the individuals involved. Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said Friday night that family members had been notified. On Saturday, a group of family members and friends at the lakeside site declined comment; several performed a Hmong spiritual ceremony near where the bodies were retrieved.
Vadnais Lake is on the west side of the Ramsey County suburb of Vadnais Heights, about 10 miles north of downtown St. Paul.