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Slain Tampa Palms children remembered fondly by neighbors, in schools

TAMPA — Julie Schenecker was sick of her teenage children talking back to her, police say, so last week she bought a .38-caliber pistol and planned their murder and her suicide.

She shot her 13-year-old son Thursday evening after driving him home from soccer practice. Then she walked upstairs and shot her 16-year-old daughter in the back of the head as she did homework, an arrest affidavit states.

With their blood on her clothing, the 50-year-old mother remained at the Tampa Palms house all night. Police didn't arrive until the next morning, after Schenecker's mother called them from Texas, worried because she couldn't reach her daughter, whom she believed was depressed.

Schenecker admitted to killing her children, Calyx Schenecker, 16, and Powers Beau Schenecker, 13, police said. She showed no remorse.

Though Schenecker cooperated Friday, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said no explanation could help people truly understand why it happened.

"She did tell us that they talked back and they were mouthy," she said.

The children's father, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, 48, was informed Friday that his wife killed their children, McElroy said. He is stationed at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base and was in the Middle East.

Neighbors said they've seen police cars at the home at 16305 Royal Park Court before, though not often.

The Department of Children and Families said it investigated the family about two months ago after getting a complaint. The tip was determined to be unfounded and the case was closed. Spokesman Terry Field said he couldn't elaborate.

Several out-of-state family members declined to comment Friday, but neighbors and school officials described the children as bright, polite and athletic.

"Calyx was a very sweet girl, always soft spoken, always quiet — a real sweetheart," neighbor Seema Jain said. "I just can't comprehend why this has happened to them."

• • •

Parker Schenecker met Julie Powers in Munich, Germany, where they were both stationed in the late '80s and early '90s.

She worked as a Russian linguist for the Army, collecting intelligence for European agencies by interviewing refugees coming from the Eastern Bloc, said Tim Fredrikson, who served with her.

Parker was a rising intelligence officer who had graduated cum laude with a French degree from Washington and Lee University, where the school yearbook is named the "Calyx."

In Munich, Julie organized and coached a volleyball team of officers, said K.C. Dreller, another intelligence officer who worked with her.

"She was super good at it," said Dreller, 49. "I imagine she was super good at everything she did. Anybody that was in that field was a Type A personality."

The couple married and had two children, Calyx in Germany and Powers, who went by "Beau," in Honolulu.

The military family moved a lot, and Parker Schenecker studied at several military schools, including the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College, according to a 2010 bulletin on distinguished alumni published on his high school's website.

The newsletter also said he was promoted to colonel in 2006 and was mainly responsible for the National Security Agency's support to military operations.

About three years ago, the family landed in Tampa.

Parker is assigned to CentCom's intelligence directorate and has been stationed there for more than two years, said spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Lawhorn. He was on a temporary duty assignment overseas the past few days.

Julie Schenecker, who is no longer in the Army, stayed home with their children. She took shifts driving in the neighborhood's King High School carpool and often referred to the struggles of parenting in seemingly light-hearted Facebook posts.

On May 7, a friend wrote, "Happy Mother's/Hallmark day to all the mothers. You are more brave than I. Not sure how you do it, but glad you do."

Julie responded: "some days, not sure how we do it, either!! :-)"

On Sept. 23, a friend posted on his profile: "Hold yourself to a higher standard than anybody else expects of you."

Julie commented: "i needed that advice today — have a 16 yr old daughter!"

• ••

Beau attended Liberty Middle School and played soccer. The blond-headed boy could often be found playing basketball, street hockey or other games with friends in the cul-de-sac.

Calyx was in the 10th grade in the pre-International Baccalaureate program at King High. She was a talented artist, took part in speech and debate and formed a Harry Potter fan club.

Principal Carla Bruning described her as an excellent student who was popular, sweet and enthusiastic.

"She was a great kid, the kind you would want to clone," Bruning said.

Gary Bingham, who coached Calyx in cross country and track, called her "the fastest freshman I ever had."

She was quirky, he said, a girl fascinated by dead bugs and funny-looking leaves on the running trails. She was easy-going, bubbly and smart.

At track practice Thursday afternoon, Calyx, a distance runner with long legs, decided to also give hurdles a try.

"She went over a hurdle and fell face first," Bingham said. "She got up just laughing."

Bingham expected to see his runner again at a 5K race today. Instead, he consoled his track team Friday and thought of Calyx's father.

"He leaves here with a family and comes back with nothing," Bingham said.

• • •

The scene Friday morning was ghastly. Beau was still in the van, Calyx by the computer. It didn't look like they struggled. "The children never saw it coming," McElroy said.

Inside the house, police found a detailed note that explained how their mother planned to kill them, then herself. As they processed the scene, the department's Critical Incident Stress Management team was on hand to counsel the investigators, all parents.

Schenecker told police she shot her son in the head "for talking back to her" as she drove him to soccer practice, an arrest affidavit states.

At about 3:30 p.m., authorities led her from Tampa police headquarters. She wore a white plastic outfit, the type given to suspects when their clothing is seized as evidence.

She did not answer questions from reporters and mumbled to herself as deputies escorted her into the Orient Road Jail.

She shook uncontrollably, and deputies took her to the medical unit to be screened, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Larry McKinnon.

Deputies planned to monitor her around the clock.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Lee Logan, Richard Danielson, Colleen Jenkins, Marlene Sokol, William Levesque, Thomas Marshall and Joey Knight contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Police investigate report of double killing


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Slain Tampa Palms children remembered fondly by neighbors, in schools 01/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 11:47am]
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