A court commissioner had tentatively ordered a Houston woman to relinquish temporary custody of her two young children to her ex-husband's sister hours before the family was killed in a murder suicide, an attorney said Wednesday.
Authorities responding to a 911 call in an upscale, gated community in San Clemente found 38-year-old Elizabeth Fontaine; her mother, 67-year-old Bonnie Hoult; and daughters 4-year-old Catherine and 2-year-old Julia shot dead Monday afternoon in an apparent murder suicide.
Initial forensic testing to determine the shooter based on gunshot residue from a handgun found between the women's bodies was inconclusive because powder was found on the hands of both adult women, sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said. The gun was registered to Hoult, who was a retired psychologist.
Earlier that day, Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Thomas H. Schulte had indicated he would likely grant temporary custody to Fontaine's sister-in-law and ordered Fontaine to return to court with her daughters in the afternoon for a final ruling, said John York, an attorney for the children's father, Jason Fontaine.
When Fontaine failed to show up, York and the children's father realized there was a 3:30 p.m. flight from John Wayne Airport to Houston and notified the judge, York said.
Schulte issued a final order granting temporary custody to the paternal aunt and told the aunt to drive to the airport and contact deputies at the sheriff's substation there, York said.
Minutes from the hearing confirm that Schulte gave the sister-in-law custody and gave her the authority to contact sheriff's deputies to help keep the children off the flight.
The family never went to the airport, however. The bodies were found shortly after 1:30 p.m., the hour they were all due back in court.
Fontaine, a patent lawyer, moved to Houston last month with the children after a bitter custody dispute in which she repeatedly accused her ex-husband of molesting the two girls.
Her employer, Howry LLP, said in a statement Wednesday that colleagues were shocked and saddened by her death, but the company had no further information except that she had requested a transfer to Texas from Orange County last month.
A court psychologist interviewed the older daughter, but didn't find that molestation had occurred, according to court documents. The court eventually awarded primary custody to Elizabeth Fontaine, but allowed her ex-husband unmonitored visits.
Elizabeth Fontaine reopened the custody case in Texas, had the children examined by new psychologists and renewed her allegations of molestation with authorities there, records show.
The hearing Monday was to address Jason Fontaine's application for custody.
No molestation charges were ever filed against Jason Fontaine and his ex-wife's allegations are false, his attorney said.
"Her allegations were taken extremely seriously but nothing ever panned out," he said. "Jason has zero history, so I'm absolutely convinced that everything was fabricated on her part."
Associated Press Writer Amy Taxin contributed to this report.