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River Falls Police Chief: Father left gas fireplace on, flammable liquid found in house

Police Chief Roger Leque answers questions concerning the triple homicide from an array of media reporters Thursday afternoon, July 11, at River Falls City Hall. Phil Pfuehler photo.

Aaron Schaffhausen, formerly of River Falls, allegedly left his three daughters behind in their home with the gas fireplace activated on the first floor and the odor of flammable liquid coming from the basement.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, July 11, Police Chief Roger Leque wouldn't respond to a reporter's question whether Schaffhausen had planned to burn the house down at 2790 Morningside Ave. Leque said that would only be speculation at this point.

Schaffhausen's three daughters, ages 5, 8 and 11 were found dead inside. Their bodies are now at the Ramsey County, Minn., Medical Examiner's Office.

Schaffhausen, 34, sits in St. Croix County Jail in Hudson. He will be arraigned in circuit court at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Leque admitted at the press conference that this was the "worst crime scene" in his 34 years with the River Falls Police Department.

Schaffhausen and his wife, Jessica, were divorced earlier this year. He lived in Minot, N.D., but had visiting rights.

Leque said Schaffhausen, either by text or phone call, alerted his wife that he was coming to see the kids Tuesday, July 10. She apparently was OK with that "spontaneous visit."

Leque said a babysitter was at the house. She left sometime after Schaffhausen came.

Later Jessica, who may have left work and was driving, got a call from her ex-husband that indicated he'd harmed the children. She quickly alerted police.

A search in River Falls got underway to find Schaffhausen. He was tracked by his cell phone but turned himself in at the police station before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Leque said that Schaffhausen's demeanor when turning himself in was "basically non-talkative."

The mother wasn't allowed into the home, but police took pictures of the children inside and showed those pictures to family members to confirm their identity.

Leque refused to say where the children were found in their home or what exactly caused their death. Police did say earlier there was a strong gas odor when officers first entered.

Leque said police investigated a telephone threat earlier this year where Schaffhausen allegedly threatened to harm one of his children.

Jessica was arrested in August 2009 for domestic battery during a local disturbance with Schaffhausen when they were still married. She allegedly hit and bit him.

Leque said police are working with Jessica and her immediate family now "to make sure their needs are met" and he asked the public to respect the family's privacy.

The police cordon of the Schaffhausen house and block in the Highview Meadows subdivision will be lifted later this week.

Grief counseling was going on this afternoon at Greenwood Elementary School. Superintendent Tom Westerhaus and Principal Nate Schurman along with staff and teachers were there to meet with parents and students. There will another similar session from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at Greenwood.

Two of the three dead sisters attended Greenwood: Amara, a 5th grader, and Sophie, a 2nd grader. The youngest, Cecilia, was set to enter kindergarten at Greenwood in September.

In a press release from Westerhaus, Amara and Sophie were described as "being remembered as bright, happy, friendly children by staff and other students" and the school's staff was looking forward to the addition of the third sister, Cecilia.

Bakken-Young Funeral Home , 805 E. Division St., is handling funeral arrangements for the Schaffhausen family.

Those wishing to assist are asked to send monetary donations to the First National Bank of River Falls in care of "Benefit Account for the Schaffhausen Children."