HUDSON, Ohio – After he shot and killed his two children, Manuel Gehring dug a grave about 2-feet deep in the clay-like soil of northeast Ohio and made two crosses out of sticks, held together by duct tape, which he laid over their bodies. The New Hampshire man later told investigators that he said a prayer for the children's souls.
The gesture was an effort to ease his conscience, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin of New Hampshire.
The bodies of Sarah Gehring, 14, and her brother, 11-year-old Philip Gehring, were identified Saturday — two days after the corpses were found buried off Interstate 80 and 2 1/2 years after the children were slain.
Summit County Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler said the children died of multiple gunshot wounds.
"It's been an emotional case from the start," Strelzin said. "It's hard to not to be angry at a father who takes the lives of two children."
A woman who had been searching for the children with her dog Ricco, a 101-pound boxer-Rottweiler mix, found the bodies Thursday in a shallow grave off an access road near Hudson, about halfway between Cleveland and Akron.
"It's just been truly this unbelievable burden not having them found, and so that does feel like somewhat of a relief," the children's mother, Teri Knight, said Saturday outside her New Hampshire home. "It's tough, but it's better than not knowing where they are."
The children last were seen in 2003 with their father at a July Fourth fireworks show in Concord, N.H. Gehring told authorities he pulled off the highway later that night and shot the children, then drove for hours with their bodies in his van before he buried them.
He was arrested in California a week later and committed suicide by strangling himself in prison before being tried.
Gehring told police he couldn't remember where he dumped the bodies. He did, however, give them tantalizing clues — such as the makeshift crosses — that led to appeals for help and repeated searches along a 700-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from Pennsylvania to Nebraska.
The autopsies revealed that Sarah had been shot in the head three times, and that her brother had been shot four times — once in each arm, in the head and in the neck, Strelzin said.
Gehring never told investigators how many times he shot his children, Strelzin said.
Authorities had recovered two handguns when Gehring was arrested, and officials said Saturday they believe both were used: One to shoot Sarah, and when that gun jammed, the other to kill her brother.
Strelzin wouldn't comment on whether the children were in a defensive posture when shot.
In 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey did a pollen analysis on soil found under Gehring's minivan and near the shovel used to bury the children. It concluded that the soil most likely came from northeastern Ohio, where Interstate 80 is the Ohio Turnpike.
Knight said she searched within five miles of Hudson last summer. Knight said she and her second husband have one final task.
"We know we need to get out to Ohio," Knight said, though she did not say when. "We don't have to, but we want to see the area and bring them home."
In the two and a half years since the children were killed, the Knights have pursued countless disappointing leads while raising twin daughters who were born just months after Philip and Sarah were killed. But Teri Knight never gave up hope.
"I always knew it would happen someday," she said. "I was trying to figure out a way that I was going to be able to move forward in my life, and raise my daughters without having that be something that consumed my life."
The bodies were found well outside Hudson proper, in a desolate wooded area close to upscale, modern housing developments that are evidence of the bedroom community's growth.
Rick Brower, 46, took a hike Saturday with his son Mark, 12, through the woods to the burial site from their home in the Bridgewater Place housing development a quarter mile away.
"I've walked through here before, just looking around," Brower said. "I brought Mark down just to show him how close it was. My 14-year-old daughter is pretty creeped out about it. People do some really bizarre things."
Hudson resident Heidi Mocas took a bouquet Saturday to the spot where the bodies where found.
"It's a grave site, and to have had two children there very close in age to my own children, I just thought it was absolutely necessary to put some flowers down," said Mocas, the mother of two teens. "If something like that were to happen to my children, I would hope somebody would do something like this for them."