Parents, two children found dead in Miss.

Published 11:22 pm Thursday, December 23, 2010

MERIDIAN (AP) — A father apparently fatally shot his two young children and their mother to death before killing himself at the small Mississippi home they shared, a county coroner said Thursday night.

Clayton Cobler, the Lauderdale County coroner, said the suspected murder-suicide took place between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Cobler said it appears that the man shot the woman in the living room, and then shot one boy in a hallway and another boy and himself in a bedroom. The handgun was found near the man’s body. The couple was not married.

‘‘It looked like it was thought-out,’’ Cobler told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday evening.

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Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said the boys were 4 and 5 years old. He said the man and woman were 26 and 25, respectively.

The man’s father, who was also living in the home in the east-central part of the state, found the bodies when he returned from work Thursday afternoon, Sollie said. The home was decorated for Christmas.

‘‘It’s really tearing everybody up around here,’’ Cobler said.

Cobler said two of the victims ‘‘died of gunshot wounds,’’ but he said the cause of death could not be officially determined until autopsies were complete. The bodies were being sent to Jackson, about 90 miles to the west, for autopsies.

‘‘All of them were definitely up close,’’ he said.

Sollie also said some of the victims suffered from gunshot wounds, and that it appeared one boy was trying to get away. He said he was withholding their names until relatives are notified and did not expect to release them Thursday night.

‘‘This is a tragedy for the families involved in our community during this time of celebration,’’ Sollie said in a telephone interview from the crime scene.

Investigators arrived on the scene about 4:30 p.m. The home is outside Meridian in the southeastern part of Lauderdale County, which is on the Alabama line.

The father and grandfather had been living in the home for some time, and the mother and children appear to have been living in the home about a week, the sheriff said.

Sollie said he did not know what prompted the shootings, but that authorities are looking at whether the two had past domestic problems.