DUNEDIN — Kassidie Rae McMillin's stepfather came home Thursday night to a gruesome scene. His wife was dead. Ten-year-old Kassidie was fighting for her life.
By noon Friday, authorities came to a horrifying conclusion: Tina Marie Foster had shot and gravely wounded her daughter Kassidie before shooting and killing herself.
The chubby-cheeked little girl, described by her principal as "kind-hearted," was flown to the hospital. She underwent surgery and was in critical condition late Friday, deputies said. Bay News 9 reported that she was shot in the head.
No motive for Thursday's shootings was provided, but detectives said Foster, 39, was struggling with financial and personal problems.
She and William Foster, 42, had been married since May 2009. They lived where the shooting took place: in the Windemere apartment complex at 1763 Main St. Neighbors were shocked, saying the community of modest apartments is generally quiet.
Deputies were summoned to the scene by William Foster's 911 call shortly after 10:30 Thursday night. Authorities won't say whether they found a note, but they said evidence discovered at the scene indicates Tina Foster was the one who shot Kassidie.
A large caliber weapon was also found.
Kassidie's father, Derrick McMillin, couldn't be reached for comment. His Facebook page said he's staying at Operation Par, a Pinellas drug treatment center, and comes home on the weekends.
At the top of his Facebook page: a picture of himself cheek-to-cheek with his daughter.
Kassidie is a fourth-grader at San Jose Elementary School. On Friday, few at the school knew of the shootings, according to principal Monika Wolcott.
"I'm just trying to hold it together for my staff and the family," said Wolcott, who described Kassidie as a "kind-hearted, smart and outgoing" young girl.
"We are praying for her full recovery," Wolcott said. She declined to say more out of respect for the family.
Late Friday afternoon, Wolcott sent out an automated phone message to parents. She encouraged parents to talk with their children and said the school would have counselors available on Monday.
The shooting of the child by her mother is reminiscent of another recent case that shocked the Tampa Bay area. In January, 50-year-old former U.S. Army linguist Julie Schenecker was arrested and charged with killing her teenage children, Calyx and Beau.
It is rare for mothers to kill their children. In the United States, only about 200 children are killed each year by their mothers or stepmothers, according to government statistics.
It was not clear what happened that led to Thursday night's violence at the Foster home. Details of Foster's financial and personal problems were not available.
Foster was arrested in October by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on suspicion of trafficking in hydrocodone. In January, she was arrested by the agency, accused of embezzling about $27,0000 from her employer, Temperature Services Inc., a Largo heating and air conditioning business.
She was charged with a scheme to defraud and fraudulent use of a credit card.
Foster made personal purchases on a company credit card and transferred funds from a company checking account to her own credit card or debit card accounts, according to a law enforcement report.
A hearing in the case was scheduled for May 23.
When confronted by a deputy four months ago, she expressed relief, saying, "I'm glad this is over."
She told the deputy that she knew she would eventually be arrested, and said, "I just want to go on probation and pay this back to (the owner). I have a 10-year-old daughter I have to take care of. I can't believe I got myself into this."
Times staff writers Jamal Thalji, Rita Farlow and Ileana Morales and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.