PONTIAC, Ill. – A burst of gunfire sent Annelise Fiedler running out of her home to see what the noise was. In the yard next door, she saw 30-year-old Sara McMeen hovering over her baby as if she had dropped her. Fiedler asked McMeen if everything was all right.
"She looked at me and said, 'No, everything is not all right,"' Fiedler told The Associated Press.
Then, Fiedler said, McMeen shot the baby. Fiedler fled for her life.
While authorities in the small Illinois farming community remained tight-lipped Saturday about the details of what they said was a murder-suicide that left five people dead, neighbors described shocking violence that took place outside, in full view of their homes. Some could see two of the children's bodies from their windows.
The dead included McMeen, her 29-year-old live-in boyfriend, Daniel Warren, and her three children, 8-year-old Skyler Lemke, 7-year-old Ian Lemke and 10-month-old Maggie Warren, authorities said.
Livingston County Sheriff Martin Meredith would not identify the shooter or disclose a possible motive for the shootings, which happened about 2:30 p.m. Friday.
A school bus had dropped off Skyler and Ian Lemke, along with several of their friends, moments earlier, neighbors said. The children were excited because it was the last day of school before Christmas break, said Ronald Groetsema, whose 12-year-old son was also on the bus.
From his home one street away, Groetsema heard an initial round of six to eight gunshots. A few minutes of silence passed. Then, he heard four to six shots more.
Dave Melton rushed home after getting a frantic call from his wife, who could see McMeen's backyard from her window.
"The kids are dead," she told him.
On Saturday, Melton stood in front of his home and pointed at the yard that backs up to his. A day earlier, he saw Ian Lemke's body on the step leading into the neighboring house and McMeen's and Skyler's bodies about 10 feet away.
"I stood here for a while, like, 'This ain't happening,"' he said.
All five were pronounced dead at the scene. Meredith said investigators found a semi-automatic pistol there, but wouldn't say exactly where.
In a statement issued by authorities, Cynthia McMeen, Sara McMeen's mother, said family members "grieved over the loss of their loved ones."
"They realize this tragedy ... affects not only their family, but other families as well," she said in the statement. "The family is drawing together during this time, relying on God, and grieving."
Neighbors said McMeen and her family had moved recently to Emington, a speck of a town about a half-mile long with just 117 residents. Surrounded by miles of farmland covered in frost, it's a place where "you drive 15 miles in any direction to get to anywhere else," Pastor Pam Gansch-Boythe said.
The family rented a home that, according to longtime resident Bob Young, was known as the "banker's house" before the town bank closed years ago. A woman who said her brother-in-law now owned it declined to comment when reached by telephone.
Meredith said the two older children attended school in nearby Saunemin, where Skyler was in second grade and Ian was in first grade. The children were well-known in the neighborhood, but the adults were not.
Fiedler said she had heard a man and woman fighting next door three times over the past few months. She said the couple kept "very much to themselves."
Melton said he had spoken to McMeen "just a little bit," usually when he was in his own backyard.
About 30 people gathered in an Emington church Saturday morning to pray and try to understand what happened. Some residents said they had moved from larger towns to find a safe, quiet place to raise their families.
Beth Barcikowski, who lives across the street from McMeen's house, said her children used to play with the Lemkes. Skyler would come to their home before and after getting on the school bus, Barcikowski said.
She's haunted by the idea that the little girl was shot just as she arrived home from school.
"Just wishing she would've come here first," Barcikowski said.