With mourning underway for three young children whose bodies were pulled from a Vadnais Heights lake on Friday and Saturday, their families and law enforcement are looking for answers.
The body of Molly Cheng, the 23-year-old mother of the children, was also found in Vadnais Lake. The Ramsey County sheriff’s office said Saturday they are investigating the case as a possible triple murder-suicide.
The deaths came on the heels of the reported suicide of Cheng’s husband, who was the children’s father. Maplewood police and firefighters were called to the family’s home in the 1300 block of Pearson Drive on Friday about 10:30 am and found him deceased.
Law enforcement began looking for the mother and her children on Friday.
“As a result of the incident that occurred (in Maplewood), they were concerned about her well-being and the well-being of the children,” Undersheriff Mike Martin said Saturday. Molly Cheng’s cell phone was tracked Friday about 4 pm to Vadnais-Sucker Lake Regional Park, which is off Interstate 694 and Rice Street. Her vehicle was found parked, and children’s shoes were located.
Searches of the lake and park began, with deputies pulling a boy’s body from the lake about 7:30 pm Friday. Another boy was located deceased in the lake about midnight, then the bodies of their mother at 10:40 am and a girl at 11 am Saturday.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office is working to determine their cause and manner of death.
Cheng’s sons were 4 and 5, and her daughter was 3, based on Cheng’s social media posts. Cheng wrote that she worked as a tattoo artist, did permanent makeup, and was also a hair stylist and makeup artist.
HOW TO GET HELP
The names of the people who died weren’t released by authorities on Saturday, though Cher Cheng knew them — he was a cousin of Molly Cheng and said he spent time with her husband.
He said he doesn’t understand what happened.
“I can’t even say anything about what she did,” he said Saturday. “It’s just hard.”
He said he last talked to Cheng’s husband a few weekends ago and “he was acting the same;” Dear didn’t have a sense that something was wrong.
“He’s just a kind person,” he said. “For sure, he loves his kids.”
Dan Reidenberg, executive director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) in Bloomington, urged people to avoid speculating or rushing to judgment.
“Suicide is never about one thing,” he said. “In a situation like this, if she did find out that he died by suicide, there had to have been more going on than that.”
The majority of people who suffer a loss of a relative or friend to suicide get support and help, “and they can get through it,” Reidenberg said.
He also wants people to know that resources and support are available for people experiencing a crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (8255).
“If you’re worried about someone — you’re hearing them saying they have no reason to live, they’re giving away their possessions — reach out, try to get them help,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Minnesota.
In Ramsey County, people can call the adult mental health crisis line at 651-266-7900, which is available 24-7.
‘LOSS OF THREE INNOCENT LIVES’
Vadnais Heights Mayor Heidi Gunderson, the city council and city staff said their thoughts and prayers are with the family, responding officers and firefighters who assisted in the search.
“We at the city have children in our lives, and there simply are not words to express the sadness associated with the loss of three innocent lives,” they said in a statement.
The sorrow of the families was also being felt by the people who found the children in the lake. It “takes a toll on those who respond,” said Deputy Pat Scott on Friday night during “Live on Patrol,” Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s livestream during patrol.
They used boats with sonar, did visual searches, and had the Minnesota State Patrol helicopter helping by air. Wings of Hope and Northstar Search and Rescue, both non-profit organizations, brought in assistance and technology to help with the search.
“In the end, it’s identifying possible objects of interest and then sending divers in that actually physically search and locate the victim,” Martin said.
Cmdr. Eric Bradt, who’s in charge of the sheriff’s office water patrol, said he’s worked in law enforcement for 30 years and water patrol for most of his career and the search for the children “was one of the more difficult ones.” The people involved will be given opportunities for counseling and stress debriefings, Martin said.
The search of land and water went until 3 am Saturday, and their work was put on hold until about 8 am There are some deep spots in the lake, but it’s mostly 5 to 10 feet deep, Bradt said. Boating is not allowed on the lake.
“Our hearts go out to the families involved here and their friends,” Martin said. “Our goal was to find the children and the mother and to return them to their families.”
For most people, “even imagining this is going to be horrific just to think about,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher recalled some similar situations in the past, including when Naomi Gaines threw her 14-month-old twin sons off the Wabasha Street Bridge in St. Paul on July 4, 2003. One drowned and one survived. Gaines then jumped into the Mississippi River; she survived.
And on Sept. 3, 1998, Khoua Her killed her six children, ages 5 to 11, in their residence in St. Paul’s McDonough Homes. She attempted suicide after what remains the worst mass murder in St. Paul’s recorded history.
“The mental health aspect of people … it’s just tough to get your mind wrapped around how someone does that,” Fletcher said Friday.
“If you’re mentally healthy, it’s unimaginable,” Scott said.