A father fatally shot his three daughters and their chaperone inside the sanctuary of a California church before killing himself during a supervised visit with them Monday night, police said.
Officials did not immediately identify the church where the killings took place shortly after 5 p.m. on Wyda Way in Sacramento, but Michael Baginski, identified as a district leader on the website of The Church in Sacramento, suggested to the Los Angeles Times that the father was mentally ill.
The father, who has not yet been publicly identified, was only described as a 39-year-old man, while the ages of his daughters are listed as 9, 10 and 13.
Authorities say the father was estranged from the mother of his children and she had an active restraining order against him. Police say it was an employee of the church where the shooting took place who called 911 after hearing gunfire around 5:07 p.m.
In a televised interview, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said the church is used by a number of denominations for their services so it was unclear what the relationship was between the family and the church.
“It’s just horrific and unfortunately it does happen in the county. Domestic violence is all too common. This obviously rising to the level of killing innocent children is obviously beyond anyone’s rational comprehension,” Jones said.
He explained that even though domestic murder-suicides are rare, they do happen all over the country and they encourage individuals who are in crisis to seek help before it’s too late.
“It’s hard to really understand what goes through a person’s mind to do that,” the sheriff said.
“While we are no stranger in this county to domestic violence, a crime of this magnitude, where there is so much death and destruction and deliberation and violence that is, fortunately, very rare, but nonetheless it does happen. Not just in this county but all over the country,” he explained.
“I’d just encourage anybody in a situation like this thinking that would never happen, he would never do that — it could happen. You just don’t know what people are capable of. So I’d just encourage people to use whatever resources they have to get out of a situation like that,” he added.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the murders “senseless” and “absolutely devastating.”
“Another senseless act of gun violence in America — this time in our backyard. In a church with kids inside. Absolutely devastating,” he tweeted Monday night. “Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and their communities. We are working closely with local law enforcement.”
When asked why the father was allowed a supervised visit with the children despite the restraining order the mother of the children had against him, Sheriff Jones said “parental rights are very strong.”
“That’s not uncommon, parent rights are very strong. Family court, their main goal is reunification so they want to see that if there is a pathway to reunification of the family they are looking at the best interest of the child, not necessarily the best interest of each individual adult,” he explained. “You look at this [as], such an outlier, such an extreme example of what could happen.”
As authorities continued their investigation Monday night, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., in whose district the church is located, offered prayers for the victims.
“Tonight’s senseless shooting is a tragedy beyond words. My prayers are with the victims’ family, loved ones and the entire Sacramento community,” she tweeted. “In memory of all those we have lost, we must renew our resolve to build a world free from gun violence.”