MADISON, Wis. – A North Dakota man killed his three young daughters after they rushed to greet him during a surprise visit and left their bodies tucked in their beds, Wisconsin authorities said in court documents released Thursday.
St. Croix County prosecutors filed a criminal complaint charging Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Each count carries a mandatory life sentence.
Circuit Judge Howard W. Cameron set Schaffhausen's bail at $2 million Thursday and ordered him to have no contact with the girls' mother or her immediate family. Schaffhausen's attorney, listed in online court records as public defender John Kucinski, didn't immediately respond to a telephone message left at his office.
Autopsy results showed 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen, 8-year-old Sophie Schaffhausen and 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen died from "sharp force injury" to the neck. Cecilia also had been strangled, according to the complaint.
The girl's mother, Jessica Schaffhausen, and Aaron Schaffhausen divorced this past January. He lived in Minot while the girls lived with their mother in River Falls, a city of 15,000 about 30 miles east of the Twin Cities, in a house she rented from her ex-husband, according to the complaint.
Investigators wrote in the complaint that Aaron Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife around noon Tuesday and asked for an unplanned visit with the girls. The mother thought he was supposed to be working a construction job in Minot but agreed, telling him to be gone by mid-afternoon because she didn't want to see him.
A Minneapolis Star Tribune report said Aaron Schaffhausen was fired from his job at a St. Paul construction firm on July 5 after he failed to show up for work. The firm had hired him to work on projects in western North Dakota, the newspaper reported. The firm's sales manager did not respond to an Associated Press email inquiry seeking details.
The girls' baby sitter told detectives the girls were so excited to see him when he arrived they rushed to him and took him upstairs to show him their things. The baby sitter followed them upstairs, hugged the girls goodbye and left, the complaint said.
About two hours later, Aaron Schaffhausen called his ex-wife.
"You can come home now because I killed the kids," Jessica Schaffhausen said he told her.
She immediately called police, who found no one home when they reached the house. They discovered the girls tucked into their beds, blankets up their necks. All three had what appeared to be dried blood on their faces and a large amount of blood covered the carpet in a bedroom.
Officers detected an odor they thought at first was natural gas. They later discovered a gasoline container had been tipped over in the basement, spilling its contents.
About an hour after he contacted his ex-wife, Aaron Schaffhausen drove into the River Falls Police Station parking lot and surrendered. Officers noted his shorts were stained with what appeared to be blood. Detectives tried to interview him, according to the complaint, but he said nothing.
The complaint did not say where Jessica Schaffhausen was on Tuesday.
Dawn Simonson, executive director of Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul that helps the elderly live independently, said during a brief telephone interview Thursday morning that Jessica Schaffhausen has worked there since 2009. Schaffhausen, she said, helps people return to their own homes after stints in nursing homes.
Simonson declined to comment further, saying she wanted to respect Schaffhausen's privacy. She didn't immediately return a telephone message later Thursday asking if Schaffhausen had been at work Tuesday.
"We're just so sad and so devastated by this loss," Simonson said Thursday morning.