Four children and their mother are dead in an apparent murder-suicide in Tennessee earlier this week as authorities dig for clues about what could have led up to the violence.
While investigators have described an apparently loving home, court records detail domestic turmoil behind the scenes, including a pending divorce and disputes over parenting access.
Authorities in Maury County say Cynthia Collier, 55, and her four children — 14-year-old Bo Li, 14-year-old Meigan Lin, 15-year-old Lia Lin and Kaileigh Lin, 17 — were found dead in their Columbia home on Monday night. Collier had shot each of them before turning the gun on herself.
Her adult son discovered the bodies around 6 p.m. after he came home from work and called 911.
Collier had three older children with her estranged husband, whom she wed in 1982, before they adopted four younger children from China in the 2000s, court records show.
“At this time, everything would appear to be a murder suicide,” Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We are waiting on results from the autopsy and the forensic evidence from those results. We are still trying to determine what would be a motive in this situation.”
Asked if a suicide note was found, Rowland said there was “some information that was left that was very brief and vague that indicate it was a murder suicide.”
Rowland said investigators found two weapons at the scene that were used in the shooting.
Collier, he said, was a stay-at-home mom who homeschooled her four youngest children.
Adding to the mystery: There were not obvious signs of distress in the home, Rowland said — quite the opposite.
She “appeared to be a very loving mother, with the exception of this one incident,” he said of Collier.
“This appears to be a loving home,” he explained. “It’s an immaculate home and a very loving family. So a motive would be very important to know what would lead someone to do this to her loved ones.”
Court documents obtained by PEOPLE, however, show Collier’s relationship with her husband had apparently grown strained, in part due to his interest in forging a relationship with his youngest children after years of absence.
Collier and her husband began divorce proceedings in March but had been living apart since 2007.
In May, Collier’s husband filed a motion asking for parenting time with his adopted children. In a subsequent filing, Collier asked a judge to deny his request, stating that he had been an absent father and “missed every major milestone in their lives for the past nine years.”
Collier argued her husband was “attempting to force himself into the lives of these children who are otherwise doing well without him,” her filing states. Their four youngest children also said they had never had a relationship with their father and described their relationship with him as difficult.
And then, on May 29, Collier’s huband filed a motion to dismiss his request for parenting time “as the parties are attempting to reconcile.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help raise money to pay for funeral expenses. All donations will be given to one of the sons.
“Please continue to keep them in your prayers and thank you in advance!” it reads.
Sheriff Rowland said Tuesday that the killings have rattled the police handling the case.
“We deal with carnage every day,” he said. “The magnitude of this — it was more than what we’re used to on a day-to-day basis.”
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