The Rileys were involved in a bitter custody battle
ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP - Instead of celebrating her son's seventh birthday, Felicia Riley must bury her boy, her two daughters and the father who shot them.
Michael Riley, who would have been 7 on Monday, his sisters, Kate, 8, and Julia, 4, and their father, Daniel, 39, were found dead of gunshot wounds Sunday night in Daniel Lee Riley's home along Mohawk Drive in Rostraver Township.
The Westmoreland County Coroner's Office yesterday said Daniel Riley shot his children before killing himself with a .22-caliber handgun.
An autopsy yesterday by Cyril H. Wecht and Pathology Associates in Pittsburgh concluded the deaths were a murder-suicide. Deputy Coroner Gerald Fritz said the autopsy disclosed Daniel Riley shot Kate and Michael each twice in the head, and shot Julia once before turning the gun on himself.
"(Daniel) is not a killer. He was just depressed," said his sister-in-law, Barbara Riley. "I have no idea why he would take the children."
Riley's identical twin brother, David, also of Rostraver, made the grisly find at the home near Fellsburg after he was summoned there by Daniel Riley's estranged wife, Felicia, according to township police.
David Riley discovered all four bodies together on the bed in the master bedroom. The coroner's office reported the autopsy was unable to determine the time of the shootings. Toxicology test results will not be available for several weeks.
Felicia Riley had arrived at the home in the tony Shawnee Point housing plan to pick up the children after a weekend visit with their father, police said.
The couple had alternated weekend custody since Felicia Riley moved out with the children Oct. 27 and moved in with her sister in Greensburg, according to court records.
By then, the couple was engaged in a bitter custody dispute, volleying allegations of poisoning and mental illness, according to court records.
Barbara Riley said she had seen Daniel Riley with the children Saturday, and everything appeared to be fine. The Rileys lived with Daniel's twin brother for a period while their $340,000 home was under construction in 2005.
Police found the front door ajar when they arrived at the home, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by Rostraver Township police before Washington Township District Judge Lawrence J. Franzi.
Police discovered live bullets on the floor and counter of the first-floor kitchen and living room. Spent shell casings and sleeping pills littered the kitchen floor. Other unknown medications were on the kitchen counter.
It was unknown whether Daniel Riley left a suicide note.
"My heart sincerely goes out to that family," Felicia Riley's attorney, J. David Caruthers, said yesterday.
Daniel and Felicia Riley married on July 27, 1996, in Seal Beach, Calif. In addition to western Pennsylvania and California, the couple had lived in Niskayuna, N.Y., near Schenectady, and in Bradenton, Fla., according to public records.
They bought their home at 320 Mohawk Drive in October 2005 from Charleroi contractor David A. Rudovsky.
Felicia Riley filed for divorce Oct. 27, and she and the children moved in with Felicia Riley's sister, Sara Kaufman, and her family in Greensburg.
Felicia Riley asked for custody of the children with visitation for her husband. A month later, Daniel Riley countersued for custody.
Court papers outline a series of allegations:
Felicia Riley asked the court for her husband to surrender a set of keys to the couple's Honda minivan. She claimed that her husband had left greeting cards in the van in an attempt to "woo" her back.
Felicia Riley alleged her hands began to burn where they touched the van's steering wheel while she was driving in December.
"The sensation became so intense that she was forced to stop the vehicle, wipe her hands with cleaning wipes in the car and thereafter grip the steering wheel with the cleaning wipes so that she could continue on her trip to the Rostraver area," court documents state.
Felicia Riley claimed her hands peeled and "had other indications of a mild chemical burn."
Daniel Riley countered that his wife has a lengthy history of mental illness. He asked that his wife undergo a physical and mental evaluation, claiming that since 2000 she had regularly discussed suicide.
He claimed that in 2003, while the family lived in New York, Felicia Riley admitted herself to a mental hospital for about 12 days because she was depressed and thought of suicide.
Daniel Riley claimed his wife suffered seizures, panic attacks and anxiety attacks that "have left her unable to properly care for the parties' children in the past." He claimed she had physically harmed herself, including cutting her hands and wrists.
On Jan. 3, Westmoreland County Judge Christopher Feliciani ordered mental evaluations of both parents. Those findings were due in March. A custody hearing for Jan. 19 was to have been rescheduled after the mental evaluations were complete.
Daniel Riley worked as a manager at the Bechtel Bettis atomic power laboratory in West Mifflin, Allegheny County, according to spokesman Tony Bradfield. Riley's group was responsible for publishing technical manuals related to the operation and maintenance of various kinds of equipment.
"We're all pretty much in shock here," Bradfield said.
At Rostraver Elementary School, where Katie and Michael were students until Oct. 26 when they transferred to Greensburg Salem, said their deaths stunned the school community.
"We will have counselors at the school when classes resume," a somber Principal Fred Labutta said. "They were great kids, and we were fortunate to have them with us for a while."
Labutta said Michael and Katie attended kindergarten and second grade, respectively, last year and started the current school year in first and third grade.
"They were wonderful children. What else can you say?" said Labutta.
"It's just sad, so sad. They had a very positive impact on our school. It's hard to believe."
Labutta said the cold weather that caused Belle Vernon Area School District to cancel classes yesterday and today was beneficial in a way.
"I think that has allowed families to be together and discuss and mourn," Labutta said of the cancellations. "In that regard, it has been a blessing that we have had no school."
While closed school has allowed children to be home the last two days, Labutta added that he is sure the school's staff will have to deal with some grief whenever classes resume.
Counselors helped classmates deal with the sudden loss at Nicely Elementary in Greensburg.
Superintendent Tom Yarabinetz said employees called the parents of students in the children's classrooms. Students were simply told their friends had died, but were not given any details. A letter about the tragedy, and tips on how to talk to kids about death, were sent home.
"It was a terrible tragedy," Yarabinetz said. "We're all very saddened by the events that took place. It just seems like such a mindless, senseless tragedy that happened."
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