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Mara H. Gottfried, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published January 26 2014

Families fear mental illness led to murder-suicides

Eden Prairie, Minn. - When police entered the apartment of Anitra and Derrick Williams here, they found a heartbreaking sight — the couple were dead and their 16-month-old daughter was sitting next to her mother’s body.

It’s not known if the little girl was in the room during the murder-suicide, said Anessa Brittain, Anitra’s sister.

“Loud noises are disturbing to her,” Brittain said. “She has nightmares. She wakes up in the night crying.”

The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women’s annual report of domestic violence homicides, to be released Tuesday, will include the cases of Anitra Williams and Steve Vasey Jr., two cases that didn’t get as much public attention as others.

In past years, the coalition has found that about half the domestic violence homicides on its list were murder-suicides. Last year, of the 24 women killed by current or former intimate partners, nine perpetrators killed themselves or made a serious attempt to, said Liz Richards, the coalition’s executive director.

“This is one of the places where there’s a real lack of information and understanding and research,” she said. “We need more study of this issue.”

While women have been perpetrators of homicide, a case last year was the first time in the 25 years of the coalition’s reports that a woman killed her partner and herself, Richards said.

Steve Vasey Jr., 32, and Mindy Vasey, 31, loved each other and didn’t have an abusive relationship, said Donna Vasey, Steve’s mother. She attributes the murder-suicide to Mindy Vasey’s bipolar disorder and to not being properly medicated.

On Oct. 8, Donna Vasey said she got a text message from Mindy Vasey that “alerted me that something was wrong.” She called police, who found Mindy Vasey had shot Steve Vasey Jr. and killed herself in the couple’s Rosemount apartment.

“This was a concerning case because we didn’t have a prior history of police contact with this family,” said Rosemount Police Chief Eric Werner, who urged anyone with concerns about domestic violence or mental health issues to call police.

Steve and Mindy Vasey were married for nine years. He was the maintenance worker for the apartment facility where they lived and loved his job, his mother said.

The couple would visit Steve Jr.’s parents in North Branch and they’d all target shoot, Donna Vasey said.

“His guns were locked up, under lock and key,” she said. “If there’s any kind of a message I’d like to give, it’s that if you have someone in the house who has a mental illness, guns aren’t safe.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

Donna Vasey said she’s troubled by how hard it is for the mentally ill to get assistance, and for those who love them to try to help.

“Many times, she was sent home from a doctor’s office with new medication and no one would check on her,” Vasey said of Mindy Vasey. “When she needed an appointment, sometimes she would have to wait weeks.”

Anitra Williams’ family also believes mental illness contributed to her death. Police have said Derrick Williams, 29, fatally shot his wife, 26, then killed himself in Eden Prairie.

Derrick Williams “was a sweetheart,” Brittain said. But after he’d been deployed to Afghanistan with the National Guard, he battled post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

“Had he not been dealing with that, and (been) receiving proper treatment, he never would have harmed our sister,” she said.

Anitra Williams, known as Nee Nee, was a stay-at-home mom who had recently earned her bachelor’s degree, Brittain said.

On Sept. 21, a friend of Anitra’s had been in the Williamses’ apartment with her two children. They were in the living room/kitchen with the Williamses’ 6-year-old son; the couple were in the bedroom. It’s not clear where the couple’s little girl was, Brittain said. Anitra’s friend heard gunshots. She grabbed her children and the 6-year-old — “that’s all she could see,” Brittain said — and ran.

Brittain is raising her niece and nephew. “I never could imagine losing my parents at 6 and 1,” she said.