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Teen told Tampa police in November that her mother abused her

King High principal Carla Bruning asks the school to remember student Calyx Schenecker in a moment of silence Monday.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

King High principal Carla Bruning asks the school to remember student Calyx Schenecker in a moment of silence Monday.

TAMPA — Three months before police say Julie Schenecker shot her teenage children to death, authorities investigated a tip that she had abused her daughter.

Calyx, 16, told a child protective investigator her mom had hit her in the face with open and closed fists and had "busted" her lip a month earlier, a state Department of Children and Families report states.

Tampa police and DCF appeared to take the tip seriously. An investigator for the DCF visited the house twice and interviewed Schenecker, Calyx, 13-year-old Beau, and the children's father. Schenecker admitted "backhanding" her daughter in an argument. But finding no evidence of injury, authorities closed the case.

The Nov. 2 incident was the first time the mother and daughter's arguments became physical, Calyx's father told an investigator, according to the DCF report.

Army Col. Parker Schenecker told an investigator in a Jan. 6 phone call that he often mediated in their verbal arguments, the report states. Calyx described him as the family's "referee."

He told the investigators he had no safety concerns for his children.

Two weeks later, his wife bought a .38-caliber pistol with the intention of killing her children and herself, police say.

On Jan. 27, she shot her son, Beau, 13, in her sport utility vehicle on the way home from soccer practice, police say. She finished driving home, parked the vehicle and went upstairs. There, police say, she shot her daughter, who was doing homework on the computer.

A judge denied her bail Monday and said he expects her attorney will request a mental evaluation. She currently is being represented by Bob Fraser, a defense lawyer who joined the Hillsborough County Public Defender's Office in November.

Schenecker faces two counts of first-degree murder. Police say she was fully aware of her actions.

On Monday, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said that not only did Schenecker leave handwritten notes in the house detailing how she planned to kill her children, she also wrote a note after the crime explaining how she did it.

"It was very detailed and matter-of-fact, devoid of emotion," McElroy said.

Schenecker did not explain why she didn't carry out her plan to kill herself, McElroy said.

Attempts to speak to Parker Schenecker were not successful. A U.S. Central Command spokesman said he has returned from overseas, where he was at the time of the shooting, to Tampa and is taking time off from work.

He released a statement Monday, thanking the community for its support as he grieves for his children.

• • •

The November abuse investigation started with a tip from a counselor at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Calyx and her mom had been going for counseling for three weeks prior because of communication problems, according to Tampa police.

Calyx told the counselor her mom had hit her. Mental health counselors are required by state law to report allegations of abuse and neglect within 24 hours. So on Nov. 6, police and a child services investigator went to the home at 16305 Royal Park Drive.

Calyx had no visible injuries. But while crying, she told police that four days earlier, on the drive home from cross country practice, she and her mom had argued and her mom slapped her on her face for about 30 seconds, the police report states.

Calyx said she covered up the bruises on her face with makeup, according to DCF's report.

Speaking separately to police, Schenecker said the argument started after her daughter bought something at Publix. When Schenecker looked in the bag to see what Calyx had bought, Calyx said "stay out of my business."

Then she told her mom, "you're disgusting," and "you're not my parent," Schenecker told police.

Schenecker acknowledged that she "backhanded" her daughter in the face three times.

At the gate to their Tampa Palms North neighborhood, Schenecker hit her daughter one to three more times, Calyx told police.

And when they pulled into the driveway, Schenecker tried to hit Calyx again, but Calyx held her mom's hands.

Calyx also told police that the previous month, her mom had hit her in the mouth while they were in the car because of something Calyx had said, causing her to bleed, the police report states.

Calyx told police she was never hit like this before. Her parents usually revoked privileges or took items from her, she said.

At the time, Schenecker told police that Calyx's behavior had changed in the past year. She believed it was because Calyx was attending King High School.

Police spokeswoman McElroy and DCF spokesman Terry Field explained that for abuse charges to be warranted, there must be evidence the child was injured. Investigators didn't find evidence that Schenecker's actions harmed Calyx, they said.

"And the investigator felt comfortable that there were services in places," Field said. "They were getting counseling. It appeared that (Calyx) was safe."

On Nov. 8, two days after the police investigation, Schenecker was involved in a crash and a trooper noted she showed signs of drug impairment.

At noon, Schenecker was heading east on Fowler Avenue at 70 mph when her Mercedes-Benz rear-ended the riding lawn mower attached to a Chevy truck slowing for a turn near Jefferson Road. Schenecker didn't see the truck, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

A trooper wrote that Schenecker had "dilated pupils with no reaction to light, (and) mush-mouthed speech."

In a sobriety test, the report states, Schenecker's eyes were involuntarily jerking, which can be a sign of drug or alcohol impairment.

Both Schenecker and driver James B. Burger were injured. Schenecker was taken to University Community Hospital and was discharged without a blood test before a trooper arrived for more sobriety tests. Schenecker was cited with careless driving.

A woman who identified herself as Burger's mother-in-law said Burger's attorney advised him not to comment.

• • •

On Monday, students and school officials found ways to memorialize the teens.

At King High, students dressed like characters from Harry Potter, one of Calyx's passions. A teary-eyed but composed principal Carla Bruning took to the public address system at 7:20 a.m. and called for a moment of silence.

She announced that crisis counselors would be available all day for students and teachers.

Meanwhile, at Liberty Middle School, many students wore blue, Beau's favorite color. "We love Beau!" yelled one boy, riding with a group of boys on bicycles.

A school worker in a blue polo shirt raised the flag all the way up, then lowered it to half staff.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Ileana Morales, Marlene Sokol, Dan Sullivan, Shelley Rossetter, Sue Carlton and William Levesque contributed to this report.

Family statement

"Colonel Parker Schenecker has returned from his deployment and is grieving with family and friends. He is devoted first and foremost to honoring the lives and memory of his beautiful children, Calyx and Beau. Parker and his family have been touched by the overwhelming support from the community both near and abroad. Arrangements and details are still being finalized with regard to the services to be held for Calyx and Beau."

On the Web

See a video tribute to Beau Schenecker at links.tampabay.com.

Teen told Tampa police in November that her mother abused her 01/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 10:54pm]
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