A mother drowned her children and then committed suicide in an Easter Tragedy. The deaths of the mother and her children rocked the small town of Zimmerman, Minnesota on Easter morning.
Stephanie Shields, age 35, and her children — Nolan, age 7, and Josephine, age 6 — were found dead on Sunday morning by a relative. Authorities responded to the scene and eventually determined that the deaths were due to a murder-suicide committed by the mother.
A press release issued by the Sherburne County Sheriff this morning detailed the investigation and initial determination. The press release states that autopsies were performed on Monday, revealing that both of the young children were victims of homicide by drowning.
Stephanie’s death has been ruled a “probable suicide” pending further toxicology results and investigation.
The sheriff assured the community that the crime was an isolated incident, and there is no threat to other members of the community. As the investigation is ongoing, she reserved any further comment.
As reported by CBS News, Stephanie and her husband, Sargent First Class Mark Shields, had recently separated. He reportedly moved out of the home within the last last few weeks.
The The Zimmerman Elementary School, where the children were students, has offered grief counseling for students struggling to cope with the death of their classmates.
Murder-suicide tragedies involving children are very difficult to understand or explain. In an effort to gain some answers, a study was led by Susan Hatters Friedman, MD. Friedman researched murder-suicides, involving parents and children, in an attempt to distinguish a pattern or trend that may help explain what leads to such drastic behavior.
The results revealed several reoccurring factors. Of those cases studied, very few actually indicated previous domestic violence or child abuse. In fact, the study concluded that only 23 percent of the families were found to have a history of child abuse.
Comparatively, 80 percent of the parents studied had a history of mental health issues. A large percentage of the parents had either been diagnosed with, or displayed symptoms of, depression.
The motive in 90 percent of the cases of murder-suicide, committed by mothers, was associated with the belief that the death would end the child’s suffering, whether real or imagined by the mother.
The largest contributing factor in parent-child suicides for both mothers and fathers was found to be mental illness.
Stephanie Shields’ reasoning behind drowning her children and then committing suicide may never be known, but investigators continue to seek answers.