RIVER FALLS, Wis. (AP) — A man suspected of killing his three young daughters contacted their mother out of the blue, asked to see them and later called her back to say he had hurt them, police said Wednesday.
Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, turned himself in to River Falls police late Tuesday afternoon. He was being held on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide, city administrator Scot Simpson said Wednesday. Formal charges are pending and it was unclear whether Schaffhausen had an attorney.
Officers discovered the bodies of 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen, 8-year-old Sophie Schaffhausen and 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen on Tuesday after their mother called the city police, Simpson said. Jessica Schaffhausen said she had received a phone call from her ex-husband that made her concerned for the safety of their children, he said.
A marriage announcement in The (Springfield, Ill.) State Journal-Register shows Aaron Schaffhausen and Jessica Schaffhausen married in 2000. Court records indicate they divorced in Wisconsin this past January.
Police Chief Roger Leque said during a news conference Wednesday that Aaron Schaffhausen lived in Minot, North Dakota. He contacted his ex-wife on Tuesday and asked for an unplanned visit with the girls.
Jessica Schaffhausen, who wasn't home, agreed. Her ex-husband arrived at the River Falls home the girls shared with their mother and the children's baby sitter left, Leque said.
Sometime later, Aaron Schaffhausen called his ex-wife and told her he had "harmed" the children, as Leque put it. She, in turn, called police while driving home. The chief said investigators didn't know where she had been during the day.
The gas fireplace on the home's first floor was on when police arrived, Leque said. They smelled what Leque described as a flammable liquid in the basement, but the chief did not say what it was or how it got there. It's unclear what role, if any, the liquid may have played in the deaths — police are still waiting for the children's autopsy reports.
It's also unclear what may have led up to the incident. Leque said police records show what he called a "harassment incident" at the house in March 2012, in which the father threatened to harm at least one of the girls, but the chief said police were unaware of any restraining or protection order.
The house is located in a newer subdivision on the east side of River Falls, a city of 15,000 about 30 miles east of Minneapolis-St. Paul. No one was in the house when the girls' bodies were found.
On Wednesday morning, police had blocked off the streets surrounding the house with tape and barricades.
Neighbor Heather Johnson said the girls played with her 8-year-old son, Blake Patrow, and that Blake and Sophie were in the same elementary school class.
Johnson said Blake has been clingy and doesn't want to sleep alone after learning his friends are gone.
"He doesn't like that he's not going to see his friends anymore," she said.
Theresa DeRusha took her sons, ages 1 and 4, to the library Wednesday, saying she had to get them out of the house because she had run out of excuses about why the neighborhood was so busy.
"This is tragic and we all wish that it somehow could have been prevented," she said, sadly. "My heart goes out to the mom."
Julie Matzke said her 7-year-old daughter was in Girl Scouts with Sophie. She has created a Facebook page to honor the girls and was planning a Wednesday evening vigil at a local park.
Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.