Accused Texas killer wanted to find ex-wife
SPRING, Texas — A man charged with killing four children and their parents forced his way into the family's suburban Houston home, tied them up and shot them in the back of the head when they refused to tell him where his ex-wife was, authorities said on Thursday.
The lone survivor of the attack, the slain couple's 15-year-old daughter, suffered a fractured skull when a bullet grazed her head. She played dead and called 911 once Ronald Lee Haskell left the house, prosecutors revealed at a court hearing.
A day after the slayings, investigators slowly built a picture of Haskell, who was the couple's estranged brother-in-law.
The 33-year-old man is accused of killing his ex-wife's sister, Katie Stay, and her husband and the children ranging in age from 4 to 14, after binding them and putting the family face-down on the floor of their home.
Haskell had a handful of run-ins with law enforcement in Utah, where he had lived with his wife. Neighbors said Haskell's marriage was so rocky that Stay went to Utah last fall to help her sister escape the relationship and start a new life in Texas.
Stay “was very instrumental in helping her sister get here so she could have a fresh start. Katie's a spitfire. She has energy to stand up for what she believes is right and true,” said Verena Beckstrand, a neighbor who choked back tears as she talked about the family.
Haskell had been jailed in 2008 in Logan, a community about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, on charges of assault and domestic violence. His wife told police that he dragged her by her hair and struck her in the head in front of their children.
Those charges were later dismissed as part of a plea deal, according to information released on Thursday by Logan authorities.
Haskell was served last year with a protective order from his ex-wife. It was dismissed in October after the couple filed for divorce, online court records show.
By Thursday morning, a small 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.”
The father, Stephen Stay, was a real estate broker. The mother was a helpful presence around the neighborhood, planning Halloween and Christmas parties for children, Palacios 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 from the preliminary court hearing show that the daughter who survived attempted to close the door after telling Haskell her parents were not home. But he kicked it in. The teen remained in critical condition in a Houston hospital.
Haskell was wearing a FedEx shirt at the time of the attack, but authorities seemed uncertain whether it was a deliberate attempt to deceive.