Father Shoots Children, Sets Home and Himself on Fire

Tuesday, October 17th 2006, 11:22 am

By: News On 6

PAULS VALLEY, Okla. (AP) _ Authorities investigating a man who killed his three young children and himself have not found any mental illness or criminal background to help explain the gruesome crime and believe anguish over marital problems led to the violence.

Jay Dee Landers Sr. shot each of his children in the head with a .44 Magnum pistol Tuesday, lined up their bodies on a bed, called his wife and left a message on her cell phone to tell her what he had done, set fire to his house and then committed suicide, sheriff's officials said Wednesday.

The first firefighters to arrive at the rural home 60 miles south of Oklahoma City saw the four bodies on a bed.

Friends, neighbors and co-workers contacted by investigators said Landers, a 35-year-old Wal-Mart distribution center employee, kept to himself and seemed like a loving father who cared deeply for his children but was upset by a separation late last week from his wife, Misty Landers.

``We know the separation was hard on him, and apparently he was unable to cope with it,'' Undersheriff Steve Brooks said.

Sheriff's deputies were called to the house about a year ago after the couple got into a verbal argument, but no arrests were made and the couple have no criminal record.

The children, Jay Dee, 8; Derrick, 5 and Katana, 4, had asked their mother if they could stay with him Monday night, Sheriff Bill Roady said. She agreed and she noticed nothing unusual when he picked them up.

On Tuesday morning, she received a call that the family's house was on fire. She called her children's school and learned they had not come in that morning. Once she got to the burning house, she noticed messages from her husband on her cell phone.

``He left several voice mails that indicated that the children were already deceased. It was kind of his last plea for forgiveness,'' Brooks said.

Misty Landers was taken to a hospital Tuesday and family members were traveling from California to care for her.

Joe Eddy, chief of the local volunteer fire department, said his men found an empty five-gallon can from which gasoline had been dumped throughout the modest three-bedroom home.

On Wednesday, the burned-out property was surrounded by yellow crime scene tape. Children's toys including a tricycle and scooter were scattered in the front yard. A basketball goal stood at the back of the home, which backs up to a grove of trees.

Nearby Whitebead School, which the two oldest children attended, was closed Wednesday because of their deaths. Fall break starts Thursday and classes will resume Monday. A flag in front of the school flew at half staff.

``I know the parents of my students,'' said Mary Smith, superintendent of the school. ``This will put them through lots of anguish and they will want to have their children close to them.

``This is as bad as it gets.''

She said the father was at the school Monday to pick up one of his boys because the child was not feeling well. Landers did not cause any problems while at the school, but Smith said she continues to think about that visit.

``It's just by the grace of God something didn't happen at the school,'' she said.

The horrific nature of the crime has been difficult for lawmen and volunteer firefighters in rural Garvin County.

``I haven't been to bed,'' Roady said. ``I've been up all night and I know this has been tough on some of the new deputies.''

He said he planned to offer counseling to any deputies who needed it. Eddy said firefighters would be debriefed to discuss stress from the incident.

While they were fighting the blaze, the firefighters worked to preserve the bedroom where the bodies were found.

``Of course this was far outside what we normally deal with,'' he said. ``I was proud of them. They did an excellent job.

``A little bit of water and a lot of prayer went a long way.''

Neighbors and co-workers described Landers as quiet.

``He was a damn good worker,'' said Ryan Box, who worked with Landers at the distribution center. ``He was always on time and that's about it.''

The sheriff continues to puzzle at the violent crime:

``They said this old boy loved his kids. This was a total shock.''

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