Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Public safety

Cause of death of two young boys allegedly killed by their mother still unknown

CLEARWATER — Authorities continued to investigate Monday a suspected murder-suicide involving a troubled Clearwater woman and her two young sons, as officials at one victim's elementary school struggled to help students cope with the news of a classmate's gruesome, unexpected death.

Autopsies have been completed on the bodies of brothers Zander Brown, 9, and Zayden Brown, 5, as well as their mother, Dawn Brown, 34. However, a cause of death will not be declared until results from toxicology tests are returned, which will take weeks, said Bill Pellan, director of investigations at the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

"We want to find out if (toxic substances) may have played a role," Pellan said Monday.

The bodies of Zander and Zayden were discovered by their father, Murphy Brown, 36, just after 2 a.m. Saturday morning. Brown told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday that he had discovered the boys' corpses tucked into their beds. He said he found his wife, Dawn, hanging by her neck from an electrical cord attached to a ceiling fan.

Brown said the boys were "nice and clean" where they lay beneath their covers, with no outward signs of injury.

William Lavold, Murphy Brown's close friend, told the Times on Saturday that he had been informed by Pinellas County Sheriff's Office detectives that Dawn had drowned the boys. Over the weekend, the Sheriff's Office said only that Dawn was suspected of killing her sons before killing herself.

Meanwhile, a team of four counselors at McMullen-Booth Elementary School was helping students returning from the weekend to cope with the death of Zander, a third-grader there.

"They'll try to listen to the child, and sort through their feelings," said Pinellas schools spokeswoman Melanie Marquez. The counselors planned to let students draw pictures to help deal with their emotions, Marquez said.

"They have a very strong and supportive community there," Marquez said. "It's difficult news to handle."

By the time students arrived at the school at 3025 Union St. on Monday, parents already had heard of the tragedy. On Sunday, principal Sherry Aemisegger sent a phone message to students' homes to inform families.

"It is with great sadness that I let you know of the death of Zander Brown," Aemisegger said in the message. "If you feel that it is appropriate, please share this information with your student in your own way."

Marquez said the school district has no records of the younger boy, Zayden, being enrolled as a student in Pinellas County.

Relatives and neighbors said that Dawn Brown fell into a severe depression after she was charged with felony welfare fraud last year. The family struggled to make ends meet, and the electricity had been cut off at their home at 2015 Sidney St. in Clearwater.

Murphy Brown said the power was cut because they were $1,600 behind.

In response to questions about the Browns, Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Terri Durdaller said in an email that the agency "was involved with the family back in 2006 and at that time the family was receiving community help to resolve some issues."

She declined to elaborate.

Progress Energy spokesman Rob Sumner declined to comment on when the power was cut to the Browns' home. He said the utility decides whether to disconnect a customer's power on a "case-by-case basis," and that "disconnect is a final option."

Sumner said the company works to provide customers suffering through financial troubles with assistance information and potential payment plans. Progress also offers financial help for needy families through its Energy Neighbor fund, he said.

Times staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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