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Updated: 10:44 AM EST Jan 10, 2018
GALVESTON, Texas – Shortly after darkness fell on Galveston on Sunday, a family of four from Baytown checked into a resort hotel near the Gulf of Mexico for a one-night stay. The island is a favorite beach getaway for Houston-area families, and the San Luis Resort describes itself as “the perfect Galveston hotel and resort experience with lavish accommodations, breathtaking Gulf views and personalized service.”
Police say they believe a 37-year-old woman fatally shot her husband and two sons, ages 5 and 10, as they lay in bed in their room, then shot herself in the head.
Officers responding to a report of “pops” coming from the eighth-floor hotel room reported hearing “faint moaning coming from inside” and the door locked from the inside. Upon gaining entry, they found the four shooting victims. The father and youngest child were pronounced dead at the scene. The woman and her 10-year-old son were transported to UTMB Health John Sealy Hospital, where they died early Monday afternoon.
The hospital on Monday night identified the woman as Flor De Maria Pineda Cañas. Police identified the slain man as Mauricio Morales Cañas Sr.
Police released no details on the family and said they weren’t sure what prompted the shootings, except to say it appeared to be a murder-suicide. Those who attended church with the family told KTRK that the mother suffered from depression.
A friend of Flor Cañas told the Houston Chronicle that her bouts with mental illness led her to spend time in a psychiatric ward.
“She told us, ‘I’m coming here because I don’t want to hurt nobody and I don’t want to hurt myself,'” Pedro Echegoyen said.
The deaths, from four shots fired from a 9mm handgun, shook the vacation spot and city of 51,000.
“It’s definitely not one of those things we experience here in Galveston very often,” said Capt. Joshua Schirard, a spokesman for the Galveston Police Department.
Although police did not immediately release the names of the child victims, the Goose Creek ISD issued a statement mourning their deaths.
“The tragic circumstances surrounding these students’ deaths are almost too much to bear,” school district spokeswoman Beth Dombrowa said in a statement. “A student death can have a ripple effect on a school community and, because of this and out of concern for the students’ classmates and the campus faculty, we will have additional counseling services at the school. We are grieving for the loss of young life and its infinite possibilities and we pray for the family, friends and students most affected by this tragedy.”
Investigators said the family checked into a room at the rear of the hotel at about 7 p.m. Sunday and police responded to the room around 4:30 a.m. Monday. Authorities said no issues were apparent before the family checked in, and nothing about the condition of the room indicated there was a struggle.
Schirard said all four were hotel guests and had all been staying in that one room. He added earlier Monday that the event was “self-contained” and that there was no reason that hotel guests or anyone else in Galveston should be worried about an active shooter or additional suspects.
Investigators spent hours in the room with major crimes detectives processing information to help identify the victims and the shooter.
Paul Schultz, the vice president of hospitality for Landry’s Inc., which owns the San Luis Resort, said in a statement Tuesday that the shooting was an “isolated incident” and that the hotel is fully cooperating with Galveston Police in their investigation.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their family members during this difficult time,” Schultz said.
Police vehicles on Monday lined the back entrance of the San Luis as hotel employees and investigators went in and out of the building. At one point, two hotel employees wearing protective masks carried out a black trash bag and a wheelbarrow filled with what appeared to be items from the room.
Later, a black van pulled up to the back entrance and was loaded with two burgundy body bags on top of gurneys.
“My heart goes out to the rest of their family, their extended family, their community and our community – the ones that don’t have the training to deal with this and the ones that have to be exposed to an event like this,” Schirard said.
Psychologists and others who have studied cases of mothers accused of killing their children have said it’s not as uncommon as people might believe. But media coverage often focuses on dramatic cases, such as Andrea Yates who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2001 drowning deaths of her five children in Houston.
The Associated Press contributed to this report