Mother slain in Douglas County identified; 3-year-old also dead; father suspected in murder-suicide
UPDATED STORY (Aug. 15):
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The 3-year-old girl and her mother found slain Sunday outside Lawrence are thought to have been killed by the child’s father, who then killed himself, authorities said Monday.
The 36-year-old woman, a Missouri resident, and the 41-year-old man, a Lawrence resident, had previously been in a relationship and were the parents of the little girl, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said Monday in a news release.
The sheriff’s office said it would not release names of the dead until autopsies are complete, though preliminary identifications had been made. Autopsy results often take months.
Relatives and friends of Erin Berg confirmed on Monday that she and her 3-year-old daughter, Mazey, were the victims.
Berg was known to many in Lawrence through working nearly two decades at Kizer Cummings Jewelers, at 833 Massachusetts St.
Debby Cummings, who owns the jewelry store with her husband, Ernie Cummings, said they were “shocked and saddened” to learn of Berg’s death.
“Erin started working for us when she was in high school and remained a part of our store family until her daughter Mazey was born,” Cummings said, in an email to the Journal-World. “In those eighteen years she touched the lives of everyone who came through our doors.”
“Erin was a beautiful person in and out,” Maria Duran of Salina, who said she was Berg’s cousin, wrote in a Facebook message to the Journal-World. “She was someone everyone should meet. So bubbly and down to earth. As a mother she was amazing, the connection her and her daughter had was beautiful.”
Peter Sander, of Lawrence, was the father of Mazey Berg Sander, according to a petition for a custody arrangement that Berg filed in June 2016 in Douglas County District Court.
According to that petition, the couple never married, but Mazey — then 2 — had lived together with both parents in Lawrence until June 2016, when Berg moved to another Lawrence address.
Berg had requested court approval of a joint custody arrangement that would give residential custody to her at her home and parenting time to Sander at his home, according to the petition. However, later that year Berg withdrew the request. A motion to dismiss her petition that Berg filed in November 2016 did not give details about the family’s arrangements at that time.
The sheriff’s office death investigation began unfolding about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, roughly 8 miles southwest of the city limits.
According to a Monday news release from Sgt. Kristen Channel of the sheriff’s office:
Deputies were dispatched to a reported shooting in the 1000 block of East 900 Road, where they found the 36-year-old woman — who had been shot several times — in the driveway of a residence. The woman died at the scene. The sheriff’s office had said Sunday that the woman had no connection to that residence.
Law enforcement officers later found the woman’s vehicle in a parking area of the Baker Wetlands, a nature area just south of the city. Not far from the vehicle, authorities found the bodies of the 3-year-old girl and the 41-year-old man.
Investigators believe the man shot and killed the woman, then drove her vehicle to the Baker Wetlands, where he killed his daughter before killing himself.
Investigators don’t know why they had been in the 1000 block of East 900 Road, or why the shooting took place, Channel said in the news release.
The sheriff’s office did not release a cause of death for the child or the man on Monday.
Their causes of death are being determined and won’t be known until autopsies have been completed, according to the news release.
The sheriff’s office does not believe anyone else was involved in the three deaths.