Community of River Falls Mourns Deaths of 3 Girls
The father accused of murdering his three daughters in River Falls was charged with three counts of first degree intentional homicide.
Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, appeared in court via video conferencing at 1 p.m. Thursday in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Judge Howard W. Cameron, Jr. set the bond at $2 million, and the preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 24 at 10 a.m.
Officers found Schaffhausen's three daughters dead in the home he once shared with them and their mother, Jessica Schaffhausen.
The girls were identified as 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia Schaffhausen.
In a news release, River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson said Jessica Schaffhausen called police at 3:32 Tuesday afternoon, worried about her children's safety "due to statements made from the father of the children concerning their well-being."
Officers responded to the home located at 2790 Morningside Drive.
"In the process of the search, the gas fireplace was found to be activated and an odor of what was believed to be flammable liquid in the basement level," said Simpson. "One of the responding officers turned the fireplace off."
They found the bodies of the three children inside the home. No one else was there. Simpson said the children had been home with a babysitter, but that the babysitter left when Aaron Schaffhausen arrived. The Police Chief says Schaffhausen called his ex-wife unexpectedly Tuesday and asked if he could visit the girls.
Police have not said what, if anything, they know about what caused the deaths of Amara, Sophie, and Cecilia. Their bodies were being examined by the Ramsey County (Minnesota) Medical Examiner's Office.
Aaron Schaffhausen was being held in the St. Croix County Jail Wednesday.
Tuesday's was not the first police visit to the home. Simpson said a check of police records showed officers responded to a "domestic incident" in August of 2009. This past March, they responded to a "harassment incident where the father had allegedly threatened to harm at least one of the children," said Simpson.
The couple filed for divorce in August of 2011. The divorce was granted by a St. Croix County judge in January.
Jessica Schaffhausen works at the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, a community support organization. In a written statement, a spokesperson said "The entire staff...is devastated by the death of the Schaffhausen children. We are committed to supporting Jessica in the days ahead and will do whatever is necessary to support her through this tragedy."
The River Falls School District planned two events to help the girls' fellow students and their families cope with their loss. They were invited to the Greenwood Elementary School Media Center Wednesday from 2-4 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for sessions with counselors and staff.
About 300 people also gathered in a park Wednesday for a memorial vigil to remember the three young sisters. Girls in soccer uniforms wrote number 36 on their cheeks in honor of the teammate they lost - 11-year-old Amara. Teammates cried and hugged each other and wrote messages to Amara on a soccer ball at Glen Park.
Local businessman and father of three, Paul Rode was so moved by the story he spent the day Wednesday collecting money to help cover funeral and other expenses. He tells KSTP by the end of the day he had collected more than $30,000.
"$30,302 was raised today. The Chief had a Patrolman take the money into their hands and will be in the Mothers account in the morning. This is how community comes together. These are the actions of our community," Rodes said in a statement.
An account has also been set up at the First National Bank of River Falls located in River Falls and Prescott. The fund is called the "Benefit Account for Schaffhausen Children."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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