Fam­ily tragedy

Jen­nifer Marie Laber, left, and her sons Ethan, 5, and Adam, 3, were re­ported miss­ing Tues­day night by Laber’s hus­band. Wed­nes­day morn­ing, their bod­ies were found in the load­ing dock area of a shut­tered Sports Au­thor­ity in Lone Tree. Laber’s hus­band is no

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kirk Mitchell, Jesse Paul and Max Siegel­baum

About 2 p.m. Tues­day, an ele­men­tary school sur­veil­lance cam­era cap­tured Jen­nifer Marie Laber walk­ing her two young sons out of the build­ing be­fore dis­missal, the boys at her side with one wear­ing a back­pack and the other in a blue coat and khakis.

Hours later, her hus­band re­ported them miss­ing. By Wed­nes­day morn­ing, po­lice had found the mother and her two lit­tle boys dead in­side a sil­ver Chrysler mini­van parked in the se­cluded load­ing dock area of a shut­tered Sports Au­thor­ity store in Lone Tree.

“We cer­tainly did not see this hor­rific end­ing that this case has come to to­day,” said Chief Deputy Steve John­son of the Dou­glas County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice. “We do not have a lot of an­swers.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors say Laber’s hus­band is not con­sid­ered a sus­pect, and they are not pur­su­ing anyone in con­nec­tion to the deaths of the 36-year-old mother and her sons, Ethan, 5, and Adam, 3. The dis­cov­ery of the bod­ies ended a metro-wide search and left many — from neigh­bors to law en­force­ment — con­founded at how such a tragedy could un­fold.

Au­thor­i­ties de­clined to elab­o­rate on why they do not be­lieve there are any sus­pects. They say there is no threat to the com­mu­nity. “You’ll just have to trust us,” John­son said. “We have a lot of work ahead.”

The three were last spot­ted Tues­day af­ter­noon at Bear Canyon Ele­men­tary as Laber re­moved her el­dest son from kinder­garten, ear­lier than the usual dis­missal time, driv­ing away in the 2011 Town & Coun­try mini­van where they all would be found.

Laber’s hus­band, Ryan, who is the father of the chil­dren, was co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors. The su­per­vi­sor at a lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing firm filed a miss­ing-per­sons re­port at about 8 p.m. Tues­day.

The Dou­glas County Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­leased a miss­ing-per­sons bul­letin about Laber and her chil­dren to law en­force­ment agen­cies in the Den­ver area Tues­day night. Early Wed­nes­day morn­ing, au­thor­i­ties sent pic­tures of the three to lo­cal me­dia in hopes of find­ing them safe.

John­son said that when the miss­ing-per­sons re­port came to au­thor­i­ties, it didn’t ap­pear that mea­sures — such as is­su­ing an Am­ber Alert — were needed.

“At the time we were no­ti­fied,” John­son said, “there was no in­di­ca­tion that it would come to this hor­rific end­ing. There were no red flags.”

A passer-by called po­lice at 7:47 a.m. after spot­ting Laber’s mini­van out­side of the Sports Au­thor­ity store near the in­ter­sec­tion of County Line Road and Que­bec, Lone Tree po­lice spokesman Tim Beals said. It was not clear how long the mini­van had been parked there.

“Of­fi­cers re­sponded to the scene and re­al­ized that the van that was here in the park­ing lot matched the de­scrip­tion of the van that was re­ported as­so­ci­ated with three miss­ing peo­ple from the Dou­glas County Sher­iff ’s Of- fice,” Beals said.

Dis­patch record­ings cap­tured by Broad­cas­tify.com show how of­fi­cers first got the call.

“(Re­port­ing party) stated that he saw or found a miss­ing van with a woman and kids in it,” a dis­patcher called into the po­lice ra­dio Wed­nes­day morn­ing, send­ing an of­fi­cer to the scene. “He has not ap­proached the ve­hi­cle at this time.”

A few min­utes later, an of­fi­cer ar­rived.

“I’ve got three wounded,” an of­fi­cer said on the ra­dio. Laber and her sons were dead.

Beals said au­thor­i­ties have not clas­si­fied what kind of in­ves­ti­ga­tion they are con­duct­ing. Au­top­sies are sched­uled for Thurs­day morn­ing.

“We have a very ac­tive, on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion that we have to look into,” John­son said. “If we could get a lit­tle bit of time and we could get a lit­tle bit of space to let this hus­band and father process what has taken place overnight and also al­low us and the Lone Tree Po­lice Department to piece this to­gether …”

John­son said in­ves­ti­ga­tors are do­ing their best to get the father “the an­swers that he so des­per­ately is go­ing to need as he faces just this real hol­low time in his life.”

The mini­van was found sev­eral hun­dred yards away from County Line Road and was shielded by a wall.

By mid-morn­ing, the scene was draped in yel­low crime scene tape and filled with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Jen­nifer Laber was a so­cial worker who was li­censed in Min­nesota be­tween 2002 and 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Min­nesota Board of So­cial Work.

Dou­glas County prop­erty records show Laber and her hus­band bought a home for $364,800 on Dec. 4, 2014, on the 9400 block of Hibis­cus Drive, a quiet cul-de­sac in a tidy sub­ur­ban development. Hours after the bod­ies were found, of­fi­cers from the Dou­glas County Sher­iff’s Of­fice sat in idling ve­hi­cles out­side the twos­tory home as de­tec­tives and oth­ers came and went.

Hours after their deaths of Laber and her boys were an­nounced, neigh­bors burst out cry­ing. Par­ents whose chil­dren reg­u­larly played with Adam and Ethan strug­gled to think of ways to break the news to their kids. Oth­ers looked stunned and emo­tion­ally drained and had lit­tle to say other than of­fer­ing con­do­lences.

“None of us saw this com­ing, not even (her hus­band),” said Bran­don Tartler, a neigh­bor and fam­ily friend who is serv­ing as a de facto spokesman.

Jen­nifer Laber had strug­gled with de­pres­sion, Tartler said. Au­thor­i­ties de­clined to dis­cuss her men­tal health his­tory Wed­nes­day, say­ing it prob­a­bly will be part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Adam and Ethan were lit­tle bun­dles of en­ergy,” said An­drew Peña, the Laber fam­ily’s next-door neigh­bor. “They were full of life and re­ally smart. This is a real tragedy.”

Peña said he was reg­u­larly in touch with Jen­nifer Laber to ar­range play dates for their kids and didn’t no­tice any­thing wrong when he saw her re­cently.

“She was a re­ally sweet per­son,” he said. “There were no in­di­ca­tors.”

Phyl­lis Dubas lives across the street from the Labers. She said Jen­nifer was a stay-at-home mom who of­ten took the boys for walks. The kids had a big play ap­pa­ra­tus in their back­yard.

“Her lit­tle boys were full of ex­cite­ment,” Dubas said. “She was with the chil­dren all the time. It’s so very, very sad.”

Kelly Ursetta, prin­ci­pal of Bear Canyon Ele­men­tary School, sent a let­ter to par­ents Wed­nes­day of­fer­ing tips about what to say to young chil­dren. A crisis coun­sel­ing team was at the school to speak with stu­dents and teach­ers.

“I am heart­bro­ken to in­form you that a stu­dent at our school has died,” Ursetta wrote to par­ents. “When no other words come to mind, a hug and say­ing ‘This is re­ally hard for all of us’ may pro­vide com­fort.”

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

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