Ethel Syretha Steele, 40, shot and killed her children, ages 9, 12, and 14, at the family’s house on Brookhill Drive in Winston-Salem late Tuesday morning, according to local ABC affiliate WXLV.
Law enforcement did not initially release the names of the deceased but the children’s identities were later confirmed to be sisters Sakendra Syann Steele, 9, Sakenya Syretha Steele, 12, and brother, Sakenlo Shawn Steele Jr., 14, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Ethel Steele is believed to have shot and killed her youngest daughter first, the paper reported. The older girl likely witnessed the killing, police said, jumping up and screaming as she was then shot and killed by her mother as well. The killer’s son was likely the last victim. Then, Ethel Steele shot and killed herself, according to police.
The Journal reported that Ethel Steele was on a Facetime call at the time.
The 911 call reportedly came in just minutes before noon on Tuesday. The caller said they witnessed the shooting – but has yet to be identified.
Responding officers found all four members of the Steele family dead inside the home — saying that the mother’s gunshot wound is believed to have been self-inflicted and noting that there was not a danger to the community or any search for a suspect.
An ambulance reportedly drove away “slowly and quietly” at precisely 12:30 p.m., the Journal reported.
Surviving family members are sad and perplexed.
“Right now the family still has more questions than answers as to what led to this,” Ethel Steele’s aunt Wanda Caton told High Point, North Carolina-based Fox affiliate WGHP on Wednesday. “She was a sweet caring mother who loved her children, and, as a nurse, she cared for her family and her patients from the bottom of her heart. This was not representative of the Ethel that we know, her friends know, her teachers know.”
Her aunt went on to share Ethel Steele’s educational history, including a number of bachelor’s and technical degrees. She most recently worked as a nurse, the grieving aunt told the TV station.
“What drove this scene, we don’t know, but we ask, from the bottom of our hearts, let the police do their jobs,” Caton said. “Don’t have the rumors going. If you don’t know her, don’t make a comment. That will help make things easier for everyone, and I thank you for just understanding that Ethel was a beautiful, well-educated, loving mother, loving sister, loving daughter, who took care to the utmost of her children.”
The children’s uncle also expressed shock at the devastating turn of events.
“The kids were outgoing,” Dmon Robinson, Ethel Steele’s brother, told WGHP. “We have a cheerleader. We have an artist, also an anime artist. She was fine. I mean, this was so unexpected. I feel like I’m in a nightmare and I can’t wake up. It’s the only sister I have. That’s my baby sister.”
According to neighbors, each of the children were homeschooled, the TV station reported.
Various stories about the tragic incident have spelled the presumed murderer’s name “Ethal” instead of “Ethel.” The Winston-Salem Police Department advised Law&Crime of the correct spelling in an email.
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