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“Pray for Sumter” and sympathetic messages spread across social media on Wednesday. On the street, faces hung low and conversations were uneasy.
A pink bow and two blue bows were paired together, lined down tree trunks in front of residences of Woodridge Subdivision. A Whitetail Circle home in the subdivision had a memorial of flowers, stuffed animals, precious items and letters from friends and strangers piled around a tree’s base.
That pile grew 10 times in size in less than 24 hours as family members brought food inside and guarded the front door. Neighbors came and went, paying their respects to a mother who lost her daughter, both sons and a coworker in the blink of an eye Tuesday night.
On Thursday afternoon, Aletha Holliday wrote on her business Facebook page (she runs a catering company that specializes in desserts and chocolate treats) that she and her family are appreciative of the abundant prayers, condolences and expressions of love. Following that message were smiling photographs of her three children — 11-year-old Ava Holliday, 6-year-old Aason Holliday-Slacks and 5-year-old Aayden Holliday-Slacks.
The three siblings, along with U.S. Army Central Soldier Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Evans, 38, were shot and killed, police told media, after Holliday's ex-husband, Charles Edwards Slacks Jr., 42, entered their home with a gun at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, with the final shot aimed at himself. Evans was found in the backyard and died at the hospital. The children were found dead in their beds.
“I’ve seen about everything you could possibly think of,” Sumter County Coroner Robbie Baker said, “but that’s the first time I can say that I actually walked in a house and found three little kids shot to death.”
Baker has witnessed many young children’s deaths in his six-year career as coroner and before that in his 29 years at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, but he said never in Tuesday night's capacity. Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark said during a news conference Wednesday this is the most people to be killed by a family member in Sumter to his knowledge and memory.
“I’ve seen small children in car wrecks, and that’s bad. I’ve worked probably 12-15 child fatalities here a year, most of which are attributed to co-sleeping or they got some medical issue,” he said. “I was not mentally prepared for what I walked in and saw.”
Baker said whenever he reports to the scene of a child's death, his grandchildren take over his mind. He has six.
Five are boys, four of whom are two sets of twins at ages 6 and 8. When he walked into the residence to find Aason, a first-grader, and Aayden, a kindergartner, both of whom attended Millwood Elementary School, Baker’s emotions overcame him.
“All I could think of was my grandkids, just being asleep and executed for no reason at all,” he said. “That’s something you don’t get out of your head.
“You know there’s domestic-related murders. They happen in this country, unfortunately, every day, and they happen here. But to walk in and see three young children executed by their own father,” he said. “That’s something I will never, ever forget, and I hope I never do. It’s so tragic what that mother is going through.”
Baker asks that the community thinks of the Holliday family and respects the mother’s privacy as she continues to grieve. The Sumter Item has chosen so far not to share photos of her from archival footage.
Baker said his coroner’s office has recent hires on his team who have never witnessed a case like this before. His friend, a Charleston coroner, has a mental health counselor on standby for his team after Tuesday night’s case.
Note: Other, non-local media reports are using different spellings of the boys’ first names and the family’s last names. The Sumter Item’s spellings mirror the Sumter Police Department’s incident report and the mother’s Facebook.
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