Gunman in Texas charged with killing 4 children, 2 adults

SPRING, Texas — A gunman dressed as a delivery man forced his way into his sister-in-law’s suburban Houston home where he held her children at gunpoint until their parents arrived. Then he opened fire, killing four of the children and the two adults, law enforcement officials said Thursday.

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, has been charged with multiple counts of capital murder in the killings Wednesday evening in Spring, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. He also is accused of critically wounding a 15-year-old girl in the shooting rampage.

When he arrived at the door, Haskell demanded to know where he could find his estranged wife, the statement said. After the children’s parents, Katie, 33, and Stephen Stay, 39, arrived home, Haskell opened fire on the family. The children killed were two boys ages 4 and 14, plus two girls ages 7 and 9, Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gilliland said.

Five family members were dead when police arrived. Two were transported by helicopter to a Houston hospital, where one died and the other remains in critical condition, the statement said.

By Thursday morning, a small, makeshift memorial with three candles and a plant had been set up at the front door of the family’s two-story white-brick and brown wood-trimmed home. A couple with a child left a framed photo of the family with the inscription “Faith, Hope, Love.”

“I don’t think any of us will ever be able to see that house the same again,” said Viri Palacios, who lives across the street. “I just want the word to get out they were a really, really good family.”

Haskell was the estranged husband of Katie Stay’s sister, according to Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman. Law enforcement had initially said Haskell was the father of the slain children but later corrected that account.

Hickman said Haskell “came in the guise of a FedEx driver wearing a FedEx shirt.”

Federal Express said in a statement that Haskell had “formerly provided service” for the company, but not since January.

Neighbor Verena Beckstrand, 42, choked back tears as she described how Katie Stay went to Utah last fall to help her sister escape her relationship with Haskell and make a fresh start in Texas.

“Katie’s a spitfire. She has energy to stand up for what she believes is right and true,” Beckstrand said.

A few blocks from the home at Lemm Elementary School, Principal Kathy Brown tied multi-colored ribbons around trees in front of the building and encouraged parents to do the same.

“It’s to have positive bright thoughts about the family,” Brown said, noting that two of the slain children had attended school there and a third had graduated from Lemm.

Documents introduced during a preliminary court hearing Thursday show the 15-year-old girl attempted to close the door to the home after telling Haskell her parents weren’t home, according to a report by KPRC-TV in Houston. But he kicked in the door.

Hickman said that after Haskell left the home the injured teenage girl contacted authorities telling them the shooter was en route to shoot other family members.

Law enforcement personnel located Haskell’s car and a low-speed chase ensued, ending in a cul-de-sac, Hickman said. A standoff lasted more than three hours before Haskell exited the car, sank to his knees and surrendered.

Online jail records did not list an attorney for Haskell.

Associated Press writers Emily Schmall in Fort Worth and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

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