This kind of thing doesn't happen very often in St. Paul. Police say the last triple homicide in the city was at least 15 years ago.
The killings have shaken this neighborhood, called the North End. Residents wanting to learn more from the police listened intently as the St. Paul homicide commander Timothy Lynch spoke to them about last week's killings.
"Three people were killed at 292 Burgess. They were shot. The point of entry was a back door which was kicked in. Several suspects were wearing at least partial masks," Lynch said.
The victims were Otahl Saunders, 31, his fiancee Maria McLay, 32, and McLay's daughter Brittany Kekedakis, 15.
Lynch told residents he was glad to see them at the meeting.
"For us to solve this case, we're going to need a lot of help from the community," said Lynch. "We've already had a lot of help, we're already following up on hundreds of tips. As you can imagine, it's a massive investigative effort."
Lynch says he does not believe it was a random crime. He says there are several theories about why the suspects came to the house that early morning. He would share no details of those theories, though.
Police Chief John Harrington told the crowd that at least half the department's resources are dedicated to finding the killers. Police efforts include increased beat and squad presence in the neighborhood.
“We like to refer to ourselves, the North End in general, as the forgotten neighborhood, because everything gets taken away from us.”Resident Jeff Martens
Harrington says St. Paul officers are also working with the FBI, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Ramsey County Sheriff's office.
The meeting lasted just a half hour, and its tone was generally subdued. After the meeting, city officials and residents stayed on to talk informally.
Cindy Westphall lives a block away from where the murders took place. She's been a neighborhood resident for 27 years. She says she has seen problems with gangs in the neighborhood park, and hasn't felt safe enough to walk the streets without her dog.
Still, Westphall says she would never have expected these murders to happen in the area.
"I think, overall, there's many wonderful people that live in the neighborhood," said Westphall. "The thing that I've always wanted to live in the city for is that I think you have more of a sense of community than some of the suburbs, where people live in their big houses far away. In the city, you're right there. You know what's going on with the kids, you just have more of a sense of family with everybody on your block."
Westphall says she's seen more cops on the street since the murders, and she says she likes that. She says her main concern is that they'll leave again.
The North End lost its police station in 2003 when it moved to the new downtown headquarters.
Resident Jeff Martens has lived in the North End his whole life. He says he wants to see a permanent police presence in the neighborhood.
"We like to refer to ourselves, the North End in general, as the forgotten neighborhood, because everything gets taken away from us. Like the police station. Where's ours? Bring it back," said Martens.
Plans are already underway to do just that. Before the murders, the police department began looking at returning to the North End. The City Council is currently considering the proposal.
Martens says he was bothered by the news that one of the victims, Otahl Saunders, had a warrant out for his arrest for drug possession. But he says that doesn't matter to him. He says what's important now is supporting the victims' family and the neighborhood.
"It doesn't matter what happened in the past, or what's alleged in the past, nobody deserves to die like that, it's just so wrong," said Martens.
Police say victim Maria McLay's 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter were at home at the time of the murders, but escaped unhurt. Police will say nothing more, other than the children are helping with the investigation.
Funeral services for the three victims are scheduled for Friday. A $22,000 reward has been posted for the arrest and conviction of the killers. A separate fund has been set up for the surviving children.