St. Paul residents still seek answers after triple homicide

Ria McLay and Telly Saunders were shot and killed on March 23, 2007, along with McLay's 15-year-old daughter.
Photo provided by Brian Hamner

The 911 call came in just after 6:30 a.m. Friday March 23.

Two adults and one teenager were shot in their home by five masked men.

"They entered the house, the back door, and broke the door to get in," says St. Paul Police Department spokesman Tom Walsh. "As soon as they get in the door begins the sequence of events that we're actually not talking about."

15-year-old Brittany Kekedakis was shot and killed on March 23. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend were also killed.
Photo provided by Brian Hamner

Police have released few details. They say the killings were targeted. There's been speculation that it was gang-related. But police won't confirm that. Two young children, ages 7 and 10, were in the house at the time but escaped unharmed.

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The victims -- Brittany Kekedakis, 15, her mother Ria McLay, and McLay's fiance Telly Saunders were probably asleep, or maybe getting Britanny ready for school at Como Senior High where she was a sophomore.

In these waning days of the school year, many of the 1,300 students at Como are looking forward to summer. But some students are still back at March 23, and what happened to their friend Brittany.

"There's no getting past this. She's gone and she's not coming back and it still hurts," says Nieckia Weinandt, 16, as she sits with other students in the school library.

Friends of Brittany Kekedakis are having a hard time dealing with her death.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

The students share stories about Brittany, and cry and comfort each other, putting an arm around a shoulder or holding hands.

Brittany's cousin Melissa Williams is devastated. She carries a canvas tote bag with a big picture of Brittany on it.

"When I was 4, I seen my uncle get killed," Williams says. "He was shot in the head, too. When I found out I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to picture her getting killed. Her or Ria."

The North End neighborhood of St. Paul is a rough area. Residents complain of drug dealing and gangs. Weinandt says the murders are still shocking.

Maggie Doran and Rome Hanson created the Ben Doran Foundation after Maggie's son was murdered in 2003.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

"Brittany's house is three and a half blocks from my old place," Weinandt says. "Growing up I've seen people get shot in the head all the time. Beaten half to death, and people get beaten into comas. You think you'd get used to it, but when something like this happens to someone you know, and that you love and care about, it's like, you can't help but cry."

Four years ago, another Como student, Ben Doran, was beaten to death less than a mile from where Brittany was killed. Just after Ben's death, his mother, Maggie Doran, and her partner started a foundation to help other families of murder victims.

Doran says there are support groups to help. But she says losing somebody to murder means there's no such thing as "closure," "moving on" or being "healed."

"When I go to sleep at night, it still burns my stomach and my heart that he's gone," Doran says. "The foundation helps me to navigate and reach out to people like the victims of the triple homicide."

Glen Garagiola is helping organize a benefit and auction to raise money to pay for the funeral costs.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

"That's Brittany. She was quite a fisherman," says Brian Hanmer as he looks at photos of Brittany. "She was a good kid. She was a friend to a lot of children who hung around at Como Park High School."

Hamner is sitting at his dining room table looking at a video he made. Hamner is a longtime family friend of Brittany and her mother.

Hamner has put together a CD of hundreds of photos of the family, with lots of smiling faces of Brittany and her mom mugging for the camera. Hamner says he'll show the CD this weekend at a benefit for the family.

Organizer Glen Garagiola says supporting the victims' family with a night of celebration and fundraising is something he, and those who knew the family, feel they must do.

"All this money that's being raised is being helped to pay for the burials," Garagiola says. "And if there is any money left over, grandma can put that in a trust fund for her kids, or do whatever she wants with her grandkids. Because I think now, definitely she feels now that every moment she has with her grandkids and her remaining children is very special. Don't let those moments go by."

Como Senior High School is planning to create a memorial to Brittany Kekedakis in a peace garden, near a plaque made for murdered student Ben Doran. For Brittany, they plan to plant a flowering tree with a large rock underneath it, where friends can take shade and solace in her memory.

Because the crime is still unsolved, the two siblings who witnessed the murders are being kept hidden from the public.

The St. Paul Police Department is offering a $22,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.