Custody dispute may have led to shooting deaths

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 3:18 AM

A Texas attorney involved in a bitter custody dispute was ordered to return to a Southern California court Monday afternoon with her two young daughters. She never made it.

The bodies of 38-year-old Elizabeth Fontaine, her daughters, 4-year-old Catherine and 2-year-old Julia, and her mother, 67-year-old Bonnie Hoult, were found in an upscale Orange County home later Monday in a murder-suicide. All had been shot to death.

Forensic tests are needed to determine which of the two women pulled the trigger, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said.

Fontaine appeared in court Monday morning and was ordered to return with the children later that afternoon, documents show. Authorities responded to the red-roofed, yellow stucco house when they did not show and found a bloody scene: Four bodies, each with one gunshot wound, in a first-floor hallway.

Amormino said investigators spoke to the father, Jason Fontaine, and do not consider him a suspect. The father, who divorced the children's mother, was not at the home, authorities said.

"He's traumatized," Amormino said. "He's coping with it the best he can."

A message left with his attorney by The Associated Press was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

Elizabeth Fontaine moved to the Houston suburb of Bellaire a month ago with her daughters, but they returned to California after their father requested a custody hearing, according to court documents and authorities. Neighbors said the family and the mother were staying at a friend's home when the killings occurred.

Investigators were still piecing together what happened, but they believe the child custody dispute may have been a factor, Amormino said.

The deaths stunned the neighborhood of 42 luxury houses overlooking a golf course. The homes, with four to six bedrooms, sell for more than $1 million each, and Amormino said the area has a "very low" crime rate.

"It's very shocking," said next-door neighbor Rebecca Vandehei, who lit a stick of incense on her property in memory of the children.

"I did a prayer. ... I wanted to try to help," she said.