Moments after dropping her toddler off at day care early Monday, a woman noticed a man outside the house and called to check on day-care provider DeLois Brown. The phone went dead in mid conversation.
Hurrying back to the Brooklyn Park child care home where she had just left her child, the woman found Brown and her elderly parents, who had just moved to the Twin Cities, shot to death. Her child was safe.
The woman, whom police didn't identify, called 911 shortly before 6:30 a.m. and officers quickly flooded the neighborhood in search of the suspect, described as a man in his 20s who rode away on a bicycle.
There were still no arrests late Monday, although SWAT teams and K-9 units spent several hours searching neighborhoods, a quarry and wooded areas near the home at 8117 College Park Drive. The nearby Hennepin Technical College was locked down for part of the day.
Brooklyn Park police offered no motive and would not say whether the suspect knew or had targeted the victims. Police Chief Michael Davis declined to provide details of the investigation but said he didn't believe there was a threat to the general public.
Police also did not identify the victims, but relatives said DeLois Brown, 59, had operated the day care for several years. Her parents, Clover Bolden, 81, and James Henry Bolden, 83, had moved from East St. Louis last week to live with Brown, who lost her husband three months ago to health problems.
"I don't know what to think," said Brown's brother, James "J.B." Bolden. A family member called him about 8 a.m. and told him to get to Brown's home, which is about a quarter mile from his home. He assumed his father, who had diabetes and required dialysis, was ill.
"I had no idea it was my whole family," he said. "I can't wrap my head around this. It's crazy."
His parents, married for 61 years, had known each other since they were children. "They've just been great, caring family people all their lives," Bolden said.
His parents moved in with his sister last Tuesday. It was difficult for them to leave their friends, church and community in the St. Louis area, Bolden said. "But they were excited about coming to live here," he said.
"Never in my wildest dream would I imagine that my parents' lives after all these years would end this way," Bolden said. "This is extremely hard on the family. Whoever these people or this person is: Lord have mercy on their soul."
His sister was a church-going person who had been operating a day care in her home for about five years. "She loves children," Bolden said. "And she loved to sing. She had a beautiful voice."
She was a woman who worked hard, did what she had to do and always seemed upbeat about life, Bolden said. "Most of the time you would see her bright smile."
"I don't know that my sister had any enemies," he said. "This makes absolutely no sense to me. Someone is very disturbed to have taken the lives of these three people."
In Brooklyn Park, neighbors also were stunned.
"Nothing usually happens" in this neighborhood, said Hakeem Hughes, 18. But, he said, "at 6:28, I heard screaming. It was a girl or woman that was screaming.
"I wasn't really expecting that, because they're really nice people. I'm just shocked people can just go into a house and kill three people like that."
Brown's Visions and Butterflies Child Care was licensed to handle 12 children, according to the state Department of Human Services. She had served for five years as day-care director for the Osseo Area School District's alternative learning center in Brooklyn Park.
There was no outward sign of damage or struggle at the gray house with the white shutters. With its fenced yard sprinkled with toys, the home had an air of serenity, even as the neighborhood bristled with cars and officers from Hennepin County and Brooklyn Park.
Several officers with dogs walked through tall grass just west of the Hennepin Technical College campus, which was locked down until mid-afternoon. Others were in a marshy area near the Xcel Energy Training Center. By the early afternoon, several officers were seen going door to door near the intersection of Boone Avenue N. and Brooklyn Boulevard.
Jim Aksteter, among those whose house was visited, said: "They were really thorough. ... You could tell they meant business; the look in their eyes was intense."
These were the first homicides in Brooklyn Park this year, said Police Inspector Todd Milburn. Last year, the city had five, three involving domestic incidents. Overall, however, Brooklyn Park had reported a 20-year low in crime in 2011, and violent crime had fallen 14 percent from a peak in 2006.
Heidi Woelfel said she's lived for 13 years in the neighborhood where the shootings occurred. She said she feels very safe, although she found the intensive police activity unsettling. "I know most of these people, and this is a good neighborhood."
Fled on bicycle
Communication between police near the crime scene and dispatch indicated that a struggle between a male and a female preceded the shooting at the day care and that a male fled the scene on a bicycle.
The suspect was described by police as a black man in his mid-20s and riding a BMX-style bicycle. He was wearing blue jeans, a navy blue sweatshirt with a gray hood and two 1-inch stripes down the back. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 763-493-8222.
None of the neighbors interviewed by the Star Tribune said they heard shots. Elisha Johnson, 20, said she was worried the suspect was still on the loose. "That's the scariest part for me," she said.
But she also talked quietly of a conversation she says she had with Brown's daughter and granddaughter, about four hours after the murders.
"They were here to talk to police and when they were leaving, her granddaughter is the one who told me that her grandmother had been killed," Johnson said. "She's 15. Can you imagine having to face this?"
Margaret Brown was one of the few family members willing to talk about her lost relatives, including her sister-in-law DeLois Brown: "Her mother and father were getting up in age. They agreed to move back with her. She only wanted a better life for them."