Bodies of missing Highlands Ranch mother and her two young boys found in minivan in Lone Tree — (The Denver Post)

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The Denver Post

By Jesse Paul | jpaul@denverpost.com, Kirk Mitchell | kmitchell@denverpost.com and Max Siegelbaum | msiegelbaum@denverpost.com

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Jennifer Marie Laber, 38, and her two sons, Adam, 3, and Ethan, 5, were found dead in a minivan parked outside a closed Sports Authority store

LONE TREE — About 2 p.m. Tuesday, an elementary school surveillance camera captured Jennifer Marie Laber walking her two young sons out of the building before dismissal, the boys at her side with one wearing a backpack and the other in a blue coat and khakis.

Hours later, her husband reported them missing. By Wednesday morning, police had found the mother and her two little boys dead inside a silver Chrysler minivan parked in the secluded loading dock area of a shuttered Sports Authority store in Lone Tree.

“We certainly did not see this horrific ending that this case has come to today,” said Chief Deputy Steve Johnson of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “We do not have a lot of answers.”

Investigators say Laber’s husband is not considered a suspect, and they are not pursuing anyone in connection to the deaths of the 38-year-old mother and her sons, Adam, 3, and Ethan, 5. The discovery of the bodies ended a metro-wide search and left many — from neighbors to law enforcement — confounded at how such a tragedy could unfold.

Authorities declined to elaborate on why they do not believe there are any suspects. They say there is no threat to the community. “You’ll just have to trust us,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of work ahead.”

The three were last spotted Tuesday afternoon at Bear Canyon Elementary as Laber removed her eldest son from kindergarten, earlier than the usual dismissal time, driving away in the 2011 Town & Country minivan where they all would be found.

Laber’s husband, Ryan, who is the father of the children, was cooperating with investigators. The supervisor at a local engineering firm filed a missing-persons report at about 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office released a missing-persons bulletin about Laber and her children to law enforcement agencies in the Denver area Tuesday night. Early Wednesday morning, authorities sent pictures of the three to local media in hopes of finding them safe.

Johnson said that when the missing persons report came to authorities, it didn’t appear that measures — such as issuing an Amber Alert — were needed.

“At the time we were notified,” Johnson said, “there was no indication that it would come to this horrific ending. There were no red flags.”

A passer-by called police at 7:47 a.m. after spotting Laber’s minivan outside of the Sports Authority store near the intersection of County Line Road and Quebec, Lone Tree police spokesman Tim Beals said. It was not clear how long the minivan had been parked there.

“Officers responded to the scene and realized that the van that was here in the parking lot matched the description of the van that was reported associated with three missing people from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office,” Beals said.

Dispatch recordings captured by Broadcastify.com show how officers first got the call.

“(Reporting party) stated that he saw or found a missing van with a woman and kids in it,” a dispatcher called into the police radio Wednesday morning, sending an officer to the scene. “He has not approached the vehicle at this time.”

A few minutes later, an officer arrived.

“I’ve got three wounded,” an officer said on the radio. Laber and her sons were dead.

Beals said authorities have not classified what kind of investigation they are conducting. Autopsies are scheduled for Thursday morning.

“We have a very active, ongoing investigation that we have to look into,” Johnson said. “If we could get a little bit of time and we could get a little bit of space to let this husband and father process what has taken place overnight and also allow us and the Lone Tree Police Department to piece this together.”

Johnson said investigators are doing their best to get the father “the answers that he so desperately is going to need as he faces just this real hollow time in his life.”

The minivan was found several hundred yards away from County Line Road and shielded by a wall.

By mid-morning, the scene was draped in yellow crime scene tape and filled with investigators.

Jennifer Laber was a social worker who was licensed in Minnesota between 2002 and 2014, according to the Minnesota Board of Social Work.

Douglas County property records show Laber and her husband bought a home for $364,800 on Dec. 4, 2014, on the 9400 block of Hibiscus Drive, a quiet cul de sac in a tidy suburban development. Hours after the bodies were found, officers from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office sat in idling vehicles outside the two-story home as detectives and others came and went.

Hours after their deaths of Laber and her boys were announced, neighbors burst out crying. Parents whose children regularly played with Adam and Ethan struggled to think of ways to break the news to their kids. Others looked stunned and emotionally drained and had little to say other than offering condolences.

“None of us saw this coming, not even (her husband),” said Brandon Tartler, a neighbor and family friend who is serving as a de facto spokesman.

Jennifer Laber had struggled with depression, Tartler said.  Authorities declined to discuss her mental health history Wednesday, saying it likely will be part of the investigation.

“Adam and Ethan were little bundles of energy,” said Andrew Pena, the Laber family’s next-door neighbor. “They were full of life and really smart. This is a real tragedy.”

Pena said he was regularly in touch with Jennifer Laber to arrange play dates for their kids and didn’t notice anything wrong when he saw her recently.

“She was a really sweet person,” he said. “There were no indicators.”

Phyllis Dubas lives across the street from the Labers. She said Jennifer was a stay-at-home mom who often took the boys for walks. The kids had a big play apparatus in their back yard.

“Her little boys were full of excitement,” Dubas said. “She was with the children all the time. It’s so very, very sad.”

Kelly Ursetta, principal of Bear Canyon Elementary School, sent a letter to parents Wednesday offering tips about what to say to young children. A crisis counseling team was at the school to speak with students and teachers.

“I am heartbroken to inform you that a student at our school has died,” Ursetta wrote to parents. “When no other words come to mind, a hug and saying, ‘This is really hard for all of us,’ may provide comfort.”

 

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Mother Who Killed Her Kids Before Committing Suicide Was On Antidepressants — (Douglas County Coroner’s Office)

Jennifer Laber had two antidepressants, desmethylvenlafaxine and bupropion, in her system when she took the lives of her sons, ages 3 and 5, and then ended her own life on November 29, according to the autopsy report released by the Douglas County Coroner’s Office.

Desmethylvenlafaxine, marketed as Pristiq among other trade names, has known side effects that include depression and suicidal thoughts and actions.  Pristiq was ranked #10 on the list of the top 10 prescription drugs most linked to violence compiled by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in 2010, after analyzing reports of drug side effects filed with the FDA.

The other antidepressant Laber was taking, bupropion, is marketed as Wellbutrin and Zyban among other trade names, and its known side effects include suicidal thoughts and attempts and thoughts of hurting or killing others.