The residents of Canon City, Colorado are struggling to cope with the loss of three residents after a convicted child molester killed a woman and her two young children. Jaacob van Winkle allegedly murdered a 35-year-old woman and her two children, a 5-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl, at their home on Sunday night.
Officers were alerted to the murders by a teenage girl who was in the home and managed to escape and call for help. She told authorities that she had been sexually assaulted by van Winkle, who was found inside the home and arrested without any fuss. Van Winkle was a friend of the mother's and had been living at the home.
Van Winkle is currently being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder of a victim under age 12, sexual assault on a child under age 15 involving a pattern of abuse, and sexual assault involving force or threat and kidnapping, The Denver Channel reported.
"The possible penalty is life without parole or if the district attorney chooses, to seek the death penalty, but the DA will not have to make that decision until later in the case," Judge David Thorson said during van Winkle's court appearance on Monday. Van Winkle was then taken back to jail.
Van Winkle has a criminal history of child molestation and vicarious sexual gratification in Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Corrections. He was sentenced to four years and five months in prison for the molestation and 18 months in prison for the sexual gratification charge. Three years later, he was sentenced to an additional two years and nine months on the same molestation case.
Officials are conducting autopsies on the woman and her children in order to determine how they died and are not releasing the names just yet in order to afford the family privacy. The teenage girl who managed to escape was treated and released for her injuries.
"This is a very, very tragic event. It's a very, very horrific crime," police chief Paul Schultz told the Associated Press.