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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

May 10, 1998

Author: Victor Volland ; And Dan Hieb ; Of The Post-Dispatch

Jacqueline Junk remembers hearing a loud bang a couple of weeks ago across Florida Avenue from her house in Belleville. At the time, she thought it was nothing.

On Friday evening police discovered the bodies of four members of the Kettler family, shot to death in their home on Florida Avenue near the corner of East Main Street. Dead were Bruce K. Kettler, 44; his wife, Delores Kettler, 39, and their daughters, Nicole, 11, and Noel, 7.   Each had been killed by a single gunshot to the head, St. Clair County Coroner Rick Stone said Saturday.

“You hear about that happening, but you just don’t think it can happen in your neighborhood,” Junk said. “Not across the street. Not to someone you know.”   Stone said powder burns and the trajectory of the bullet indicated that the father’s wound was self-inflicted. A handgun used in the shootings was found beside his body.  No note was found.

Junk said Delores Kettler had said her husband was taking medication for depression and had a phobia of being around people in public.    Junk said Delores Kettler and the two children often spent time on the big wooden porch of their house. Bruce Kettler rarely emerged.

“He would not come out,” Junk said. “In the six years they were there, I only saw him a handful of times, and he didn’t have much to say.”   Junk’s son, Andrew, cut grass for the Kettlers. Delores would sometimes bring her daughters to Junk’s house when she paid for the mowing.

“Lori (Delores) was always full of giggles,” Junk said. “And her daughte rs were full of energy. She was a good mother. This is a nightmare.”   Junk said Bruce and Delores Kettler were both unemployed. The children had changed schools twice in the past year and since January were being home-schooled.

Stone said the family had been dead at least two weeks. The father was last seen about April 20.   Police forced their way into the modest, single-story frame home about 5 p.m. Friday after someone who knows the family notified them.

Easter decorations still hung Saturday in the home’s windows. A stuffed white bunny with pink ears sat inside the family’s brown Dodge. A child’s drawing of a smiling elephant lay on the floor. A wood-framed swing set stood in the sideyard.

The bodies were found in the living room, with the mother and the younger daughter on a couch, the older daughter on a nearby loveseat and the father lying on the floor next to the couch.  Debbie Cheselden, who lives a block away, said the girls had played a lot with other children in the neighborhood.

Another neighbor, Randy Newcomb, said the street had become a circus Friday, with police officers, reporters and gawkers swamping the area. He’s thankful his daughter didn’t know Nicole or Noel.  “She asked me yesterday what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t know what to tell her. I said there was a fire.”

The Kettler girls had attended Zion Lutheran School in Belleville for several years and then transferred to Douglas, a public school, last fall. The Douglas principal, Corky Helms, said the girls were average students and quiet.  The school saw no signs of any family problems, Helms said.

“The girls seemed shy and were never in any trouble,” he said. “Then in January, the mother came in to say she was going to home-school them. I wondered, knowing they had been taken out of Zion the year before, but I didn’t question her decision.”

James Rosborg, superintendent of Belleville District 118, had talked with Delores Kettler and was puzzled about her withdrawing her daughters after only one semester.

“This is a real tragedy,” he said. “And, sorry to say, we’re seeing more and more families and their children living with frustrations.”

Delores Kettler and her daughters – but not Bruce Kettler – had been members of Zion Lutheran Church in Belleville. Church and school officials there declined to discuss the family.