MADISON, Wis. — When Andrew Steele retired as a sheriff’s deputy, his career cut short by the advance of ALS, he had no bigger cheerleader than his wife. Ashlee Steele spearheaded a drive to raise $75,000 for his medical care, and her Facebook feed is filled with the shrieks and laughter of the cold-water challenges the couple’s family and friends were eager to accept.
Now, Andrew Steele is a suspect in the killings of his wife and her sister, Kacee Tollefsbol, at the Steeles’ home in suburban Fitchburg, Wisconsin on Friday. Steele himself is being treated for an apparent suicide attempt that, police say, they never saw coming.
“Nobody closely aligned with Andy and his family expected something like this to occur,” Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney told The Associated Press on Monday. “We believe his diagnosis had an impact on the family but they were moving forward.”
Mahoney said Steele, 39, had been a deputy since November 1998. He had worked for the past several years in the county jail but resigned in June after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS attacks nerve cells and can lead to complete paralysis and death. The average life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis.
Police said Ashlee Steele, 39, and Tollefsbol, 38, of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, were shot.
It was unclear when prosecutors might charge Andrew Steele. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne didn’t immediately return a phone message Monday, and Fitchburg Police Lt. Todd Stetzer said he had no information to release on the case.
Before Friday, Mahoney said deputies had been talking with Steele about joining the family’s “Tough as Steele” effort to raise money for his medical care and other family expenses. The Steeles have two children while Tollefsbol was the mother of four.
“We’re trying to understand what could possibly have gone wrong and resulted in the death of two young women and the fact that there’s now six children without a mother,” Mahoney said.
Steele’s family started the “Tough as Steele — Taking Down ALS” campaign via the website GiveForward.com. The site said the loss of his income had been crushing to the family. As of Saturday, supporters had raised nearly $23,000 toward their $75,000 goal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The campaign appeared to have been removed from the site over the weekend.
Ashlee Steele’s Facebook page contains several videos of law enforcement colleagues and other friends taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Steele’s honor. They include Madison Police Chief Mike Koval offering prayers and firefighters from three departments cheering as a ladder truck hoses them down.
“I never would have expected the type of reaching out people have done,” Andrew Steele told WMTV earlier this month. “People that have donated, people that I don’t even know very well, I haven’t seen or talked to in years. It’s hard to describe that.”
Ashlee Steele had taught 3-year-olds in the preschool at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in Fitchburg, staff coordinator Elsa Gumm said.
“She was very organized, just full of joy in general,” Gumm said. “She was so great at being hands-on with the kids. She just made kids and parents alike feel at ease.”
Gumm said she had never met Andrew Steele and couldn’t offer any insights into why he would have hurt his wife.
“That’s the big question in our minds as well,” she said. “What we keep turning to is we may not get answers to those questions, so we just cling to our hope in Jesus Christ.”
Karnowski reported from Minneapolis.
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj