David Proeber Photography
Livingston County Sheriffs investigate the sceme of a multiple homicide in Emington, about 10 miles east of Pontiac, Illinois, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. Preliminary indications say at least four people were shot to death and another comitted suicide. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)
in small town shooting
By David Proeber and
Mary Ann Ford
EMINGTON - Amy Melton of Emington says she won't be able to forget hearing the gunshots that left five people dead Friday in this tiny village in northeastern Livingston County.
"I will never be able to get the sound of those gunshots out my mind," said Melton, who lives next door to the South Street home where police said five people were found dead at 2:36 p.m. She said she saw the bodies of three young children in the yard, and the bodies of two adults reportedly were found by police inside the two-story house.
Authorities had few answers they were able to make public Friday night, but they sought to calm fears that a gunman remained at large.
"As your sheriff I want to assure the residents of Livingston County that you are safe from any harm and we are not looking for anyone in this crime," Sheriff Martin Meredith said at a news conference that evening in Pontiac.
Authorities declined Friday night to release any details about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation. Coroner Michael Burke said names would be released after the next of kin were notified.
While authorities weren't talking, word of the shootings spread quickly through the community.
"We did have an awful disaster here," said Emington Mayor Daniel Delaney, who's been in office for 24 years. "You never would have thought it would happen in our town of 100 people or less. It's very sad. There were helicopters flying over earlier. Right now it's just very, very, very sad for us here."
Melton agreed, saying: "I've never seen anything like this. This is a close-knit, family-oriented town."
Melton said she and her daughter were at home when six gunshots rang out from the back of a house that faces her home.
"I was in the kitchen and my daughter, Emily, was playing in the next room when I heard six loud popping noises. I thought it was Emily pounding on something, but it wasn't," she said.
"I tried to think that I wasn't listening to gunshots," she said. "That doesn't happen here."
Melton looked out a side window but couldn't see anything unusual.
"I picked Emily up in my arms and went around the side of the house and then heard four or five more gunshots," she said. "When I heard them the second time I called the police."
She said she went around to the back of her house and saw another neighbor running across the lawn and ducking.
"What was happening wasn't processing with me," she said.
Looking into the yard where the shootings happened, Melton saw what she said was the body of a young boy lying face down - "It looked like he was trying to run away" - and a young girl's body lying on top of that of a baby.
"They were all dead," she said.
County Board member Bob Young, who lives in Emington, and other neighbors, said the dead included a man, a woman, an infant and two elementary school students.
Melton said the family moved to Emington in June or July, and the children played with hers.
She said the husband and wife worked a lot, but there were no indications of family problems.
"The two older children came up to me after the (school) Christmas program on Wednesday and gave me a big hug," Melton said, her eyes filled with tears.
"We're any open-door family," Melton said. "If they could have gotten over here, they might have been safe.
"It all happened so fast, they never had a chance."
Neighbors noted the village's children were home early from Saunemin Elementary School because Friday was the start of Christmas break.
The area around the house remained cordoned off, and investigators, including Illinois State Police crime scene technicians, worked late into the night. Also assisting the Livingston County Sheriff's Department and coroner in the investigation were police from Dwight and Fairbury, the county's Pro-Active Unit and the state's attorney's office.
Ambulance and emergency medical services agencies from Emington, Campus, Cullom, Dwight, Forrest, Pontiac, Strawn and Wing assisted at the scene.
Residents described Emington as a once strictly farming town that has gone through changes in the last 20 years as young families moved in. Young said the town has become more of a bedroom community from which people commute north to cities such as Joliet, about 45 miles away.
Delaney said the town is not prosperous and has received help from the state.
"It's always really had a hard time. Most of the people are retired or farmers who moved into town," he said.
Young said Emington has a post office that's been targeted for closure and just a handful of small businesses - a grain elevator, a dog groomer and a small beauty salon. The town, he said, had never experienced anything like Friday's shootings.
"I've lived here all my life. I guess, 60, 70 years ago we had a bank robbery, was the other big thing, but otherwise, nothing like this," he said.
Young said he did not know the family well.
"We've seen the kids playing at the playground and talk to them," Young said. "We thought everything was fine."
A Livingston County Sheriffs detective reacts to the scene of three dead children lying in the backyard of a home that was the scene of a multiple homicide in Emington, about 10 miles east of Pontiac. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)
Victim loved shooter too much
By David Proeber
Pantagraph photo editor
MAZON - Wendy Warren of Mazon said she saw no indication that anything was wrong the day before Friday's shooting in which authorities said her son's girlfriend killed him, her three children and herself in Emington.
Looking for answers that she said may never be found, Warren described her son, Daniel Warren, as an honorable man who may have tried too hard to build a relationship with a troubled woman who was the love of his life.
"This doesn't make any sense at all. People will look for answers but there may not be any," Wendy Warren said, later adding, "My understanding is that she just lost it."
Sara McMeen, 30, killed Warren, 29, Skyler Lemke, 8, Ian Lemke, 7, Maggie Warren, 10 months, and herself at the home the family shared, authorities said, adding they still are trying to figure out why.
Wendy Warren had visited with the family just a day before the shooting. She said everyone was happy, and she saw no indication of what was about to happen.
"Sara was over here picking up three bags of clothes for the kids," Wendy Warren said. "She was so happy."
Daniel Warren called his mother at 10:30 a.m. the day of the shootings to express how the whole family was looking forward to Christmas, she said.
McMeen and Daniel Warren had had an on-again, off-again, relationship that began five years ago, Wendy Warren said.
"They had a rocky relationship for five years," she said. "They had fights like any other couple, but they always worked things out.
"At the moment they were getting along great."
Daniel Warren worked as a security guard at Exelon Nuclear's Dresden Generating Station at Morris, she said.
"He made a lot of money," she said. "Finances were not an issue."
McMeen suffered from bipolar disorder, but was not taking medication at the time of the shootings, Wendy Warren said.
Livingston County Coroner Michael P. Burke and Sheriff Martin Meredith were asked by reporters at a news conference Monday about McMeen's mental state, but they declined to comment.
"She tried medication, but she told me that it made her feel worse, suicidal, and made her head feel jumbled up," Wendy Warren said. "The system didn't help."
She said her son had taken McMeen to a number of counselors during their relationship.
"Daniel would come home and tell me how difficult the relationship could be," she said. "He would cry over the difficulties they faced."
She said her son loved and wanted to stay with McMeen and her two children from a previous relationship. Earlier this year they had a baby of their own.
"He was so thrilled when they had Maggie together," she said. "He was committed to her (McMeen), maybe too much."
Wendy Warren's grief and shock were complicated by how authorities handled the case, she said.
"The hard thing about this is that the shootings happened at 2:30 p.m. and we weren't notified until 8 p.m.," Warren said. "We found out about it on television."
She said Monday evening she still was waiting to talk to authorities investigating the case.
"I haven't seen his body," she said. "His car is gone, his computer is gone, the wedding rings are gone."
They weren't married yet, but they had recently purchased a pair of wedding rings.
Livingston County Sheriffs perform forensics tests at the scene of a multiple homicide in Emington, about 10 miles east of Pontiac, Illinois, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011. Preliminary indications say at least four people were shot to death and another comitted suicide. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber)