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Murder investigation turns up pills, Julie Schenecker's history of depression and substance abuse

TAMPA — The Schenecker home in Tampa Palms North appeared, in ways, a portrait of ordinary American family life — kids' Crocs kicked off by the pool, desk calendars jammed with soccer practices, a note board promising "2011, Best Year Ever."

But on Jan. 28, police discovered other layers over this canvas of suburban beige: Blood. Bullets. Pills. A mother in her housecoat, breathing alcohol, mumbling, struggling to stand.

Officers found 50-year-old Julie Schenecker lying on the patio, near an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts and a Real Simple magazine opened to "9 Easy Ways to Be Happier."

The children had been shot dead after school — Calyx, 16, wheeled from the computer to her bed; Beau, 13, still belted into the family van, his blood-stained glasses removed and propped on the dashboard.

Police would start to try to figure out this family, catalog their lives, question their friends. Some of what they found was included in almost 600 pages of reports and photographs released Monday. The documents exclude statements that could be interpreted as confessions.

They don't tell the whole story.

But they tell some of it.

• • •

Depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse — Julie Schenecker dealt with them all, her friends and then-husband Parker Schenecker told detectives. She'd checked herself into rehab several times. She'd done so that fall.

Schenecker's medication was not "meshing," her friend Lisa Prisco told detectives. Schenecker had become forgetful, losing her train of thought in conversations, not remembering what happened the night before. She was on about a dozen different medications, her friend said, including pain pills prescribed after a recent car crash, and not by her usual doctor.

Detectives took 567 pills from the home, as well as two empty prescription bottles, one of oxycodone, another for hydrocodone — both strong, addictive painkillers. They also found an open bottle of Clonazepam, which helps relieve panic attacks.

Schenecker suffers from tardive dyskinesia, her friend Prisco said, a disorder that shows up after long-term or high-dose antipsychotic drug use and causes involuntary, repetitive body movements. It made her legs jerk and arms twitch. The family was in counseling, Prisco said. They had been since the fall.

• • •

Police placed evidence marker number 6 on the kitchen counter, next to a plate of a leftover piece of chicken with a hand-written sticky note attached: "Calyx wouldn't eat the 'French chicken' was going to make something else?!?"

Calyx, an International Baccalaureate sophomore at King High School, had told friends she'd been having problems with her mother. And Julie Schenecker told her own friend the same. She said Calyx didn't speak to her, didn't answer her questions, told her, "You're not my mother."

The report summarizes Prisco's perception of the relationship: "Julie would cook. Calyx would take her plate and go eat in her room. Calyx would complain that Julie was a terrible cook and that she wouldn't eat foods out of a box. She wanted everything to be green."

Calyx was applying to boarding school, Prisco said. And her father was helping her, "trying to do what a dad can do."

He was an Army colonel, one overseas stint away from retirement. He left Jan. 19. He was due back Feb. 1.

• • •

On Jan. 22, Julie Schenecker walked into Lock N Load on Tampa Road in Oldsmar. She wanted a revolver. She said her subdivision recently had four or five home invasions, and she needed protection.

The store manager and his assistant watched her handle the store's guns like she knew how to use them. She'd been in the military herself, stationed in Germany. She loved it there, she said. She seemed calm, clear, normal.

She paid $599 for a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and ammo. Police have said she wrote in a note that the mandatory three-day waiting period would "delay the massacre."

The kids left school that Thursday for the last time.

• • •

In the earliest hours of Jan. 28, a Friday morning, Julie Schenecker sent someone incoherent text messages.

12:28 a.m.: Txt me f or stll awake

The hells r k

Comein the mb doorzth imay be asleep butill be awack -r ill be wacke wjheaek when come thru

1:02 a.m.: Might need some help this wkend come thru the mb slider - tell me ur coming k?

And at some point, Schenecker's out-of-state mother got a suicidal-sounding e-mail that alarmed her. She called police to check on the house.

They showed up at 7:39 a.m.

They found her in a white robe, blood on her face, hands, watch and clothes, a black fine powder across her cheek.

By 10:20 a.m., Schenecker sat handcuffed in a holding cell, the belt of her housecoat now gone, kept out of her reach. She was offered water, cookies and a coffee with cream and sugar.

A crime scene technician came in and photographed her. At her home, other pictures were being taken, of belongings scattered among evidence — smiling family portraits, the Scheneckers' 19-year-old wedding invitation, a book titled, Excuses Begone! How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits.

Soon, photographers would capture the first iconic image of an accused murderer, stripped of all that said suburban housewife, now an inmate, shaking in the arms of police.

Into evidence bags went her robe, slippers, and pajamas. She had nothing else to wear.

On came the white bio-suit.

Times staff writers Jessica Vander Velde and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

Schenecker case

Parker Schenecker, the father of the victims, released a statement Monday in response to Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody's decision to release investigative documents:

"Judge Moody's decision is another step in the judicial process, one that has highlighted the substantial burden and responsibility that comes with access to details of my children's murders. My family, friends and I, along with the thousands who have mourned Calyx and Beau with us, will continue to honor my beautiful children, remembering them with dignity and respect."

Prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty, nor have defense attorneys said whether they will pursue an insanity defense.

Murder investigation turns up pills, Julie Schenecker's history of depression and substance abuse 07/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 9:13am]
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