Murder-suicide ruled in Pierce City deaths
Sheriff: 'I've never had anything quite like this'
An autopsy completed Tuesday determined the causes of death for Kaydee Moerer, 10, and Sara Spears, 40, as a murder-suicide.
The mother and daughter were found dead in their rural Pierce City home Monday morning. Moerer died from a single gunshot to the back of the head, and Spears died from a single gunshot to the forehead.
Brad DeLay, Lawrence County sheriff, said the weapon was recovered on the scene, along with the shell casings, and everything was where investigators would expect it to be consistent with a murder-suicide.
On Monday, the sheriff's office said the investigation was for a homicide, and DeLay said such language is standard protocol for his office.
"We had two dead bodies, and we treat that as a homicide until we can determine otherwise," he said. "There are extra steps we take in these situations compared to something like a petty theft. we start at the highest level and eliminate certain things along the way. There was a good indication it was a murder-suicide, but we didn't want to make that determination and the autopsy come back and say it was something else, and we wouldn't have taken steps to secure a homicide scene."
On Monday, Nov. 13, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office received a call for a well-being check at Spears residence to assist the Division of Family Services. No deputies were available in the immediate area, so mutual aid was requested from the Pierce City Police Department.
Pierce City Chief Michael Abramovitz responded to the scene to assist DFS until deputies could arrive. Based on information that was obtained previously and at the scene, Abramovitz made entry into the residence where the two bodies were discovered. After discovering the bodies, he was able to secure the scene until deputies arrived.
Upon their arrival, Abramovitz advised the deputies what he had found and deputies made then entry into the residence to begin their investigation.
The bodies were tentatively identified as Spears and her daughter, Moerer. They were released to the Lawrence County Coroner for autopsy.
The autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning and the cause of death was determined.
The investigation is continuing to determine how much time had elapsed since someone last had contact with either Spears or Moerer.
DeLay said the pair had lived in the area about six months at most, and deputies had made contact with them in the past, as recently as 12 days before the incident.
"We made contact with them in October when someone called in a suspicious activity, but that turned out to not be anything," DeLay said. "We made contact again when [Spears'] 19-year-old son, [believed to have autism] had run away at one point. He is now with a relative in Neosho.
"At about [Nov. 1], we were called out to assist DFS on a well-being check, and they were both checked and refused any treatment that day. On Friday, DFS and a deputy went out again, and they could not make contact. There was no probable cause to enter, and they probably assumed no one was home."
DeLay said the call on Monday for from DFS to do a follow-up, since contact was never made on Friday, and that's when the bodies were found. Authorities' last contact with the mother and daughter were made on Nov. 1.
"The deputies said everything seemed normal," DeLay said. "EMS said everything was normal. They refused medical care [on Nov. 1] and there was noting unusual or suspicious at that point."
According to records from Monett-Lawrence County Dispatch, 10 total record have been made regarding Spears' home address since Aug. 3. They include: Aug. 3, 12:57 p.m., suspicious subject in the area; Sept. 8, 11:38 a.m., request phone call referencing a bike; Sept. 15, 10:05 a.m., walk-in to meet with officer referencing the bike; Sept. 18, 5:28 p.m., 911 medical; Oct. 26, 6:28 p.m., suspicious subject in the area; Oct. 28, 10:45 a.m., extra patrol request by resident; Oct. 31, 3:09 p.m., agency assist regarding children's division; Nov. 1, 2:19 p.m., medical call; Nov. 10, 8:03 a.m., well-being check request by children's division; and Nov. 13, 9:58 a.m., well-being check by Pierce City Police Department.
DeLay has also confirmed Spears was involved in an alleged criminal case stemming from an Aug. 6, 2016, incident with her boyfriend. According to a report by the Joplin Globe on Feb. 2, charges of first-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action made against Spears were dismissed in McDonald County Circuit Court when the boyfriend, Derek McKinney, failed to show up in court four times to testify against Spears.
A probable cause statement alleged Spears shot McKinney twice inside a cabin on Highway 59 in Anderson. A responding sheriff's deputy found McKinney at the scene with bullet wounds on his left forearm, which passed through, and back left shoulder, where a bullet appeared to have grazed him.
Blood and two bullet holes were located inside the cabin, and outside, all four of McKinney's tires had been shot out, the rear window of his truck was blown out and a bullet was stuck in the passenger-side door. Two more bullet holes were in a kayak in the bed of the truck, and spent casings were on the ground around the vehicle.
Spears was arrested in her car in the parking lot, and three unspent .380-caliber rounds were in her pocket when booked into the McDonald County jail. The casings were from a box of rounds found in here vehicle.
DeLay said now, the sheriff's office is looking to tie up the loose ends with the case.
"We're trying to find anyone that had any contact with [Spears]," he said. "The time of death could be anywhere from the 2nd to the 13th, and we're trying to narrow down the time frame."
DeLay said despite the forensic shows on TV, an autopsy does not immediately provide a time of death.
"Based on decomposition of the body, they can go through and determine that later on, but it's not like TV where they just say a specific day and time immediately," DeLay said.
Scott Lakin, Lawrence County coroner, said the pathologist working the case estimated Spears and Moerer had been dead since Nov. 2. Spears, he said, will be cremated, and no services are planned. Moerer has relatives in Stark City and Springfield, and Lakin said he believes they are making funeral plans with Springfield funeral home.
Another question the sheriff's office hopes to answer is the simple and most obvious one — why?
"I don't think we'll ever get a real good answer to that," DeLay said. "No one knows what goes through someone's mind. It's one thing to take your own life, but it's a deeper, darker thing for us to try to understand how someone could take that out on a child. It's probably something we'll never know.
"I have been here for 25 years, and I've never had anything quite like this."