Christine McFadden seemed to have it all — a great career, a beautiful home, and four terrific children.
But her world collapsed around her when she returned from her morning walk on March 26. The 44-year-old Merced, Calif., veterinarian found her ex-husband's vehicle parked in the driveway, and the body of her daughter in the hallway. She fled to a neighbor's house to call police.
"This is Christine McFadden. I think my ex-husband has killed my children," McFadden said in a frantic call to 911, made available to Good Morning America.
"Talk to me. What's going on?" the operator said.
"I don't know. I walk in the house. I think my daughter is dead in the hallway," McFadden said. "I left … My ex-husband is John Hogan. You need several police. He's an ex-cop. But send someone, if they're still alive."
All four of her children were slain by McFadden's ex-husband. First, Hogan, 49, killed her sons from a previous marriage, 15-year-old Stanley Willis and 14-year-old Stuart Willis. Both boys were both found shot to death in their beds. Their sister, 17-year-old Melanie Willis, struggled with Hogan in the hallway, but he killed her, too.
Hogan brought little Michelle Hogan, the only of the four who was his biological child, to the master bedroom. He shot her in the torso, and then killed himself.
A Message Left One Clue
Hogan left only one clue as to why he went on the killing rampage.
At 6:33 that morning the former Santa Clara sheriff's deputy left his best friend a disturbing voice-mail message.
"I'm bankrupt, morally, physically, emotionally, monetarily. My body's gone, my mind is gone," Hogan said in the message. "I have nothing left."
The message angers and mystifies McFadden, who says she included her ex-husband in the children's birthdays and holidays after their divorce the previous year.
Now she must mark those occasions without her children. But the distraught mother has found that support from people in her community has helped the grieving process.
Hours after the murders, hundreds of people gathered at the local church, and later held a candlelight vigil.
At the funeral, more than 2,000 mourners gathered to pay their respects to her children: Melanie, the scholar; Stanley, the football star; Stuart, the soccer phenomenon; and Michelle, who wanted to be a veterinarian, just like her mom.
Five Months Later
Five months after the tragedy, McFadden says she cries every day and takes heavy medication as she struggles through the grief. The question of why the tragedy happened haunts her every day.
McFadden said her ex-husband was never physically abusive to the kids or her. He would sometimes lose his temper over small things, flare-ups that were marked by Hogan yelling and screaming profanities, but not demonstrating physical violence.
"There was never, never any threat," McFadden said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
Hogan had been invited to Michelle's birthday party right before the murders, as he was invited to all the holidays, McFadden said.
All of the kids and their friends were there, and it was a beautiful day. Everyone else was happy, but Hogan sat in the corner by himself.
At the time, Hogan was not working regularly, had very little money, and was depressed. Meanwhile, McFadden had a successful and lucrative veterinary practice, owned an expensive home, and had custody of the four kids.
McFadden believes Hogan did not kill the children because he disliked or hated them, but simply as a way to strike back at her. He was angry with her because she was happy and successful.
Fulfilling Children’s Destinies
Now, she believes that her current reason to exist is to do the work that her children were destined to do.
Melanie, her teenage daughter, was a ballet dancer and had many close friends.
Stanley was a star athlete and a charmer, a favorite with the girls.
Stuart was a thoughtful child, who was just coming out of his shell. His soccer coach recently received a call from an Olympic scout who described a player he was interested in, and the coach had to explain that Stuart couldn't try out for the team, because he had been killed.
And Michelle was warm, loved everyone, and wanted to grow up to be just like her older sister and brothers. She loved being at the vet's office most of all.
Using contributions from people who sent her donations after the slayings, McFadden has set up a "friendship scholarship" for someone nominated by classmates who consider the applicant a wonderful, loyal friend. She says it's a tribute to her daughter Melanie, who had a wonderful group of friends. She is also setting up a project to add an addition to the University of California at Merced library, and a children's playroom for the new Mercy Hospital in Merced.
"I feel my children were such incredible people and I want the world to hear about them," McFadden said. "I want to memorialize them and to allow them to do for the world what I think they would have done to make their mark on the world."
For more information: MSSM Foundation, PMB 121, 3144 North 'G' Street #125, Merced, CA, 95340.