Alicia Chomic once described her fairy-tale life this way: She would take care of the children. Their father would work. Every night, dinner together. Every day, a happy family.
This ambition makes what happened last week all the more devastating and puzzling to those who knew her. Why would a woman who wanted only to be a mother shoot and kill each of her three little boys before turning the gun on herself?
"It's like somebody is ripping your heart out," her aunt, Cindy Potter, said Monday. "I don't know why. I can't tell you why.
"I just don't want people to think she was a monster. She wasn't."
The bodies of Chomic, 23, and her boys — Tom Goldsmith Jr., almost 5; Damian Lietz, 2 1/2; and "Little" Anthony Lietz Jr., 15 months — were discovered Friday morning at the Floral City home of Chomic's mother and stepfather, Vickie and Greg Maslowski.
Citrus County sheriff's officials said it appeared to be a murder-suicide. A gun was found at the home at 4983 E Stoer Lane, but no suicide note was left. Authorities remain at a loss for a motive.
Chomic, who grew up in Pasco County, had moved her children to the Floral City home only days earlier. They previously lived at a Holiday home they shared with Tony Lietz, the father of the two younger boys.
Lietz did not return a phone call Monday, but said over the weekend he was confused and "in shambles" over what happened. Lietz told one of Chomic's aunts, Pamela Garvey, that "not everything was peachy" in their relationship but that they were trying to patch things up, Garvey said Monday.
Slightly built with a soft voice, Chomic doted on her children, sending relatives pictures annotated with exclamation points, smiley faces and loopy, girlish handwriting. "Mommy loves her Baby," she wrote on the back of one picture she sent to her aunts.
She said things like "Okay, timeout!" to her boys. She wrote thank-you notes. She admired the long marriages of her aunts and often said, "I want that."
She did not see long relationships with her own parents.
Her parents divorced when she was about 6 years old. Both remarried, her father four times and her mother three times. No one ever heard her complain about the changes, and her aunts say she leaned on her extended family.
"She was a very loved child," said Garvey.
When she was a young teenager, she and her younger brother moved in with her father and his then-wife, now Rhonda Dewitt, in Hudson.
Dewitt, who divorced Chomic's father about a decade ago, said Chomic was quiet and friendly, eager to help around the house. She went to church every Sunday, youth group on Wednesdays.
"The child that lived with me and my children, she was a very, very good girl," said Dewitt. "As a young adult, did things change for her? Obviously so. But we're so confused. I just know there has to be more to this story."
Chomic dropped out of high school around the time she was dating the father of her oldest son, Thomas Goldsmith. They were married in Pasco County in October 2005. Her aunts believe the couple later divorced, although there are no such records in Pasco.
Public records suggest their marriage followed — and preceded — rough times. In early 2003, Goldsmith was arrested on charges of aggravated stalking after Chomic told deputies that Goldsmith had called her house, saying he was on the way over to break her friend's car windows — and then did.
On another occasion, Chomic told deputies, he had pushed her onto a bed and punched her in the head while she was four months pregnant. A friend later said in court that the blowups were not uncommon.
A judge had ordered Goldsmith to have no contact with Chomic, but a year after their son was born, the couple tried to remove the legal barrier separating them. Chomic's motion to lift the no contact order was denied.
During a deposition, Goldsmith's lawyer asked her if she wanted him to go to prison.
Her reply: "No. I'd like him to see the baby."
That October, Goldsmith wrote a heartfelt letter to the judge:
"I have had a lot of time to think about what I want in life, and what I want is to be a family with my son and his mom."
Goldsmith served less than a year in prison on the battery charge and stayed clear of the law for about a year. Then he was arrested on drug charges. He sits in prison today.
Chomic met Lietz, the father of the two younger boys, when they attended Mitchell High School together, though it is unclear when they started dating.
Her family says Lietz played a role in all three children's lives, taking them fishing or visiting Walt Disney World. Court records suggest the relationship also had some trouble — he was charged on Valentine's Day 2007 with domestic battery, accused of pushing Chomic in front of the oldest boy.
Last Thursday morning, Chomic was in good spirits, said her aunts, who spoke with her mom.
Chomic wanted to look for Halloween costumes for the children that evening. And she wanted her favorite meal, chili and corn bread, for dinner.
Vickie Maslowski arrived home later that evening. She went toward the bedroom Chomic and the boys were sharing. The door was closed. She thought they were asleep.
She thought she would see them in the morning.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.