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Police officers tell of finding children's bodies

Two of the officers first on the scene the day the children were killed were among those who testified Thursday afternoon in the Aaron Schaffhausen trial.

In all 13 witnesses - including eight local law enforcement officers and two toxicologists and an evidence specialist from the state crime lab - testified as the trial to determine Schaffhausen's mental competency moved through its ninth day at the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson.

Officer Christopher Kober of the River Falls Police Department said he peered through a window near the front door as he waited for backup at the house at 2790 Morningside Drive, River Falls, shortly after 3:30 p.m. July 10, 2012.

He saw no one, said Kober, but noticed that the living room fireplace was on even though it was a hot sunny day.

When three other officers arrived and one punched in the code to open the garage door, all four drew their weapons and, using the service door, entered through the laundry room.

The first officer went to one side and he went to the other, systematically looking through the main floor rooms and calling "clear" as they checked each room, said Kober.

"We were looking for people and threats in the residence," said Kober, who had been told there had been a threat that the children who lived there would be killed.

He and a second officer went down to the basement while the other two guarded from the top of the stairs, said Kober. In the basement, one went left and the other right as they cleared that level, noticing a strong odor of gasoline.

"We sprinted out of there," said Kober, saying they realized the danger of an explosion.

The four officers met at the base of the stairs going to the top floor and, again in single file formation, went up the steps.

They cleared the hall, the master bedroom and a bathroom before Officer Elizabeth Posel called attention to a large pool of blood in a bedroom, said Kober. In that bedroom he saw the body of a little girl in the bed. In a second bedroom, he saw the body of another girl. From the third bedroom another officer called "10-79" - indicating deceased in the shorthand of emergency communications officers' Ten Code List.

Again, said Kober, "We sprinted out of there." Still fearing an explosion, the officers left the house and waited for assistance.

Sgt. Mike Reardon said he was in the River Falls Police Department when the emergency call came in that day and watched as the officer who took the call made notes, typing into the computer log.

"I read that she typed, 'Ex-husband killed the kids,'" said Reardon. As soon as he saw the note, he headed for Morningside Drive.

Reardon, also one of the first to enter the home, said he turned off the fireplace in the living room, "maintained cover" for the officers searching the basement and called for firefighters before the four headed up the stairs.

The last in the line, Reardon said he was on the third step from the top when he heard the others say the children were dead. He called for help from paramedics, told the others they'd better leave the house and called the chief of police.

Patrol Officer Matthew Kennett said he was called to duty at 4:18 that afternoon, heard parts of a briefing and had just left the police station with a UW-River Falls officer when he saw a car pull into a spot reserved for emergency vehicles.

Believing the blue Chevrolet with California plates could be the car police were looking for, Kennett turned and walked toward it, noticing a lone man sitting inside.

The man exited the driver's side door, walked in front of the car and on to the sidewalk, heading toward the officers.

Kennett said he had just started to say, "Sir, may I ask you a question?" when the man reached into the pocket of his shorts.

Kennett said he grabbed the arm of the man, whom he later identified as Schaffhausen.

Then, said the officer, Schaffhausen simply pulled out his wallet, handed it over and said, "Let's go."

Kennett, who then escorted the suspect into the police station, searched him and later escorted him to River Falls Area Hospital for a blood draw, said Schaffhausen didn't smell of liquor, was not glassy eyed, never resisted, seemed to understand directions, made no trouble and was never out of control.

Inspector John Wilson, a 21-year veteran of the River Falls Police Department, told of arriving at the house and seeing the children's bodies in their beds. Under questioning, he said he and another officer didn't check for pulses but touched the girls' foreheads to ascertain they were dead.

Wilson said he searched the suspect's car but found no laptop computer, cellphone or smoke detectors. (The prosecution maintains Schaffhausen dumped his computer and phone and removed the home's smoke detectors before turning himself in.)

Wilson testified to interviewing Schaffhausen's friend and co-worker Joseph Rollag in Andover, Minn., about a month ago.

Wilson recalled that Rollag claimed he heard Schaffhausen say he was going to "kill our daughters and be done with it."

When he and another officer went to Andover to interview Rollag a second time, he was uncooperative and told them to leave, said Wilson.

Toxicologist Amanda Hanson said the only drugs she found in a sample of Schaffhausen's blood were nicotine and caffeine residue.

Because of the winter storm, the trial started late Thursday morning. Assistant Attorney General John Freyberg, the lead prosecutor, said he expects a full day of testimony Friday.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.