LINCOLN, Ill. — A sheriff said Wednesday that autopsies on five members of a family found slain in their central Illinois home revealed that none of the victims had been shot, but he refused to reveal the cause of death.
Logan County Sheriff Steven Nichols' comments raised further questions about the killings in the tiny farming town of Beason, particularly because he said a day earlier that deputies responded to the home of Raymond and Ruth Gee after a 911 call reporting possible shots fired.
Nichols would not say when authorities believe the couple and three of their children were killed, whether they have recovered any weapons or whether anything was taken from the house. Nor has he said if investigators have identified any suspects.
The county coroner whose office conducted the autopsies would not discuss any preliminary findings, saying the sheriff asked him not to because the information might jeopardize the investigation.
At a news conference Wednesday, Nichols said investigators continued to analyze evidence and asked the public for help in finding a gray pickup truck, possibly a Ford that was painted only in primer, that was spotted in the area late Sunday.
Area residents surmised that something was amiss in the house long before the 911 call that Nichols said came in around 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Jodie Duncan, the town's postmaster, said she saw the children every morning at her office, where they came to pick up the bus, until Monday, when they did not show up.
"I asked one of the kids, `Where are they? They said they're not here and they always beat us here," she said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a 3-year-old girl who survived the attack and was identified by family members as the Gees' youngest daughter, remained hospitalized in stable condition. Nichols said a deputy was assigned to the hospital, but that contrary to published reports, no other family members had been placed in protective custody.
He warned Beason residents Tuesday to lock their doors at night while investigators tried to identify possible suspects in what he called the "brutal" deaths of the family.
He ratcheted down those comments Wednesday, saying only that residents "need to take normal precautions," such as locking doors and knowing where their children are at night. Asked why he waited 18 hours to issue his warning, Nichols said investigators were focused Monday night on "protecting" the crime scene and following "immediate leads." He refused to answer follow-up questions.
The head of the Logan County Emergency Management Agency said the 911 call was made by a person who entered the house and saw bloody bodies "and very quickly got out of there."
Dan Fulscher, emergency management director, said the scene the caller described was grisly enough that Fulscher immediately called his dispatcher to make sure the dispatcher had not been traumatized by what he'd heard. Fulscher initially told The Associated Press that the caller was an adult, then later said he was uncertain.
Found dead inside the home along with their parents, 46-year-old Raymond "Rick" Gee and 39-year-old Ruth Gee, were Justina Constant, 16, Dillen Constant, 14; and Austin Gee, 11.
Friends of the family in Beason, a town of a few hundred people about 140 miles southwest of Chicago, said Wednesday that the Gees locked their front door but only to keep their 3-year-old daughter from leaving. And though they often left the back door unlocked so the child could get in and out of the yard, the Gees had a "very protective dog," the friends said.
"It doesn't matter if the back door was open or not because their dog was very protective of their family," said Stormee Whitney, a 17-year-old friend of Justina Constant.
That the sheriff and others were so tight-lipped about the slayings did not bother Whitney's mother, Marjorie Wright.
"They're not telling us anything ... so they can make sure that they catch these people that (did) this," Wright said.
Associated Press writers Christopher Wills in Lincoln and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.