A home-improvement worker and school janitor who apparently was struggling to survive the recession killed his sleeping wife and two children before turning the 12-gauge shotgun on himself, Maryland State Police said Saturday.

Charles L. Dalton, 38, left no suicide note and police haven't clearly identified a motive for the murders, spokesman Greg Shipley said.

"It is possible that financial difficulties were part of the motive," he said.

Police announced the findings one day after the bodies of Dalton, his wife Jennifer, 37, and their children Charles Jr., 14, and Emmaline, 7, were found in their home in Mount Airy, a Fredrick County town of 8,800 about 30 miles west of Baltimore.

Shipley said the bodies of Jennifer Dalton and the children were found in their beds. Charles Dalton's body was lying in the master bedroom next to the bed, he said.

Dalton also fatally shot the family's beagle in a crate inside the home's front door, he said.

Investigators believe the deaths occurred Thursday night or Friday morning. Shipley said Jennifer Dalton failed to report to her part-time job at a veterinary hospital in Damascus, prompting co-workers to try to contact her starting at 8:30 a.m. Friday. No one answered their calls or came to the door.

A family friend called 911 at about 5:30 p.m. Friday after spotting a body through a rear window of the split-level house, Shipley said.

Charles Dalton was a self-employed cabinet installer who ran his business, Imagine Millwork, out of his home. He also worked the night shift as a maintenance worker for Montgomery County schools, Shipley said.

The house, on a corner lot in a modest, middle-class neighborhood, had a "for sale" sign out front. It had been on the market for at least a year, neighbors said.

Kenneth Matthews, a security worker who also runs a carpet-cleaning business out of his home a few doors down, said Dalton had been scraping by in the weak economy.

"He was struggling, just like me," Matthews said. "We're probably running about 40 percent of where we were last year."

Matthews said the Daltons were quiet, churchgoing people who kept largely to themselves. A whitewashed rock in front of the house bore two Bible verses: "We will serve the Lord" and "God is our rock."

Neighbors and others placed stuffed animals and flowers on the front porch, near the children's bicycles and a scooter, to remember the family.

"We're just showing our respect," said Erica Mason, who had walked over with her husband and two young daughters to place a white teddy bear on the property. She said the deaths hit "pretty close to home — we're a family of four."

Tanya Miller came from her house a half-mile away. "I just wanted to walk around and say a prayer for them," she said.

There have been at least four other family murder-suicides in Maryland in the last 2 1/2 years — three involving Frederick County residents.

In April, a Middletown man killed his wife and their three children before shooting himself.

On Thanksgiving 2007, a Frederick man fatally shot his ex-wife and their three children during a custody hand-off in a Montgomery County park.

In April 2007, a Montgomery County father hanged his two young children before committing suicide in rural Boyds.

In March 2007, a Frederick man killed his wife and four children before hanging himself in the family's town house.