KEEGO HARBOR, Mich. - As the demons consumed her, Lauren Stuart plotted.
Weeks before she did the unthinkable, the distraught Keego Harbor woman researched suicide methods on YouTube and watched videos on how to use a Glock handgun.
She made a video of herself saying that she was “broken” and that she didn’t want to burden her family. She left a suicide note on the dinner table, tidied up the house, texted a relative and her husband's boss, and turned over the family photos on a secretary desk.
Then, she ended it all.
“I took my husband and kids with me so they don’t have to feel my selfish act. They will sleep until Christ resurrects them,” Stuart texted a cousin on Feb. 15 at 5:07 p.m. “I truly hope you do better where I have failed.”
An apparent triple murder-suicide involving four family members left residents of the small town of Keego Harbor stunned and searching for answers. (Video: Wochit)
Press has obtained investigative documents that shed light on what drove an aspiring model to kill her two grown children, her husband, herself and the family dog.
According to police records and interviews with family, friends and neighbors, Stuart battled many problems, including depression, ostracism from the Jehovah Witness church, and mental scars stemming from alleged sexual abuse as a child.
These factors combined, police believe, led Stuart to cave to despair on a February weekday when she fatally shot her son, daughter and husband — using pillows to suppress the sound — before shooting herself between the eyes.
According to police records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, here is a timeline detailing what happened, on both the day of the killings and the weeks leading up to them:
- Feb. 6 at 11 p.m.: Lauren recorded a 2-minute video of herself explaining that her pending suicide had nothing to do with her family, but that she had “many issues,” that she “can’t do it anymore” and didn’t want to be a burden to her family.
- Feb. 7 at around 1 p.m.: She recorded another short video talking about her “path of destruction” and childhood sexual abuse by a relative that she said drove her to want to commit suicide.
- Feb. 15 at 9:24 a.m.: Lauren sent her husband’s boss a text: “Mark, this is Lauren. Dan had a accident this morning and has died. I can’t talk now. Someone will inform you later on details at hospital.” The boss texted back asking for more information, but she never responded.
- Feb. 15 at 5:07 p.m.: Lauren texted her cousin telling her she “became evil” and that she “took my husband and kids so they don’t have to feel my selfish act.” That was the last communication Lauren ever made. Her cousin texted her back stating: “Lauren, you are scaring me? What are u saying????? … Don’t do it Lauren.”
- Feb. 15 between 9 and 10 p.m.: A neighbor heard gunshots. She thought someone was slamming doors. It was Lauren killing the dog, which was found in a bathtub the next morning by police, along with the four bodies.
The cousin, who tried texting Lauren again at 1 a.m., never heard back. She went over to the house the following morning with a friend. When no one came to the door, she called police to conduct a welfare check.
‘This was premeditated’
Police still don’t know exactly what time the family members were shot, but they believe the daughter was killed first and that the mother lured her 27-year-old son over to the house, citing a text message she wrote her son on Valentine’s Day, asking him if he “was still coming over to the house” at noon on Feb. 15. He had already been there on Valentine’s Day.
“This was premeditated and carefully planned out by Lauren,” wrote police, who believe Lauren Stuart had her son over on Valentine’s Day to conduct a “dry run” of her murder-suicide.
When police arrived at the house the morning of Feb. 16, the kitchen was organized. The refrigerator was stocked. Handwritten labels were on various items and a calendar hung on the refrigerator.
First, they found the dog. An officer, fearing there was an active shooter, yelled to a partner, “get your gun out? There’s a dead dog in the tub.”
Additional units were called. The officers then climbed a spiral staircase to the second floor and found the son. Steven Stuart, a skilled computer expert like his dad, facedown on the floor of a spare bedroom. Police say they believe he was sitting in a chair when he was shot in the head twice and fell to the floor.
Keego Harbor Police and the Oakland County Sheriff's department investigate a murder/suicide on Cass Lake Road in Keego Harbor on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)
In another bedroom, they found the daughter, Bethany, 24, a graphic designer and passionate artist who was shot in the head while she slept in a bed. A pillow was placed over her head beforehand, presumably to suppress the sound. Police found visible gunshots through the pillow case.
Stewart’s husband, Dan, a software designer at the University of Michigan Medical School, was found on the basement floor in front of a couch with a gunshot wound to the head. His right hand was in the front pocket of his jeans and the white pocket liner was slightly pulled from the left pocket, suggesting he was standing when he was shot and tried to react, thus pulling the pocket liner.
Lauren was found at the base of the stairs in a corner with a pistol next to her. She had shot herself between the eyes, a method she had researched on the Internet.
On the dinner table there were two notes. One was addressed to the Medical Examiner, the other a suicide note.
“I allowed evil into my heart when I chose not to accept God’s free love and it made me sick inside,” she wrote. “I killed my family because I know my death would stumble them. At least now they will not suffer and will be resurrected into love forever in peace.”
Immersed in religion
Police interviewed multiple family members, friends and neighbors who described the Stuarts as a quiet and sometimes “odd” couple who were estranged from their family because of their leaving the Jehovah’s Witness church about 10 years ago.
Multiple family members said that Lauren, who had 11 siblings, long suffered from depression that got worse after she had her children. In recent months, they said she became more religiously preoccupied and went off on rants.
Lauren’s father told police that he had not spoken to his daughter in years and that her mother died when she was 13. He said that he never cared for her husband and that he believes “Dan pulled Lauren away from the family.”
One of Lauren’s sisters told police that she had not spoken to Lauren in six years and that she, too, believes “Dan pulled Lauren away from the family.” She told police that Lauren and her husband both suffered from mental illness and that they “fed off of each other.” She said her sister was deemed “Apostasy” for speaking out against the JWs and leaving the organization.
“It is clear that Lauren showed symptoms of severe depression and displayed abnormal behavior leading up to the incident,” police wrote in their investigative notes. “It would appear that Lauren immersed herself in her own world of her version of religion and increased depression.”
She got no help. No professional counseling. No prescription drugs were found in her system. And although there was no alcohol found in her system, according to the investigation report, there were small traces of marijuana found in her system, and also in that of her husband and son.
That, coupled with the loneliness, the loss of family and friends over religion and childhood scars, “manifested, magnified and drove her” to do what she did, police concluded.
“Lauren’s’ complete immersion into religion appeared to have only further alienated her and her family from friends and other family which may have compounded her already fragile state of mind,” police wrote, noting one of Lauren’s sisters expressed little remorse about the tragedy.
In a statement that perhaps best exemplifies how estranged from her family Lauren was, police wrote:
“(The sister) showed a very solemn and somber demeanor when she spoke and stated that she is not sad for Lauren and her family and that when she heard the news of her sister’s actions, she was not surprised in the slightest.”
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WZZM 13 app now.