Justus Ogendi Kebabe
A mother and her two children were found killed in a Vadnais Heights apartment late Wednesday, and the woman’s husband — and father of the children — has confessed, the Ramsey County sheriff said today.
The man has been identified as Justus Ogendi Kebabe, 43, Sheriff Bob Fletcher said today at a briefing. The couple’s 3-year-old child was found safe with Kebabe.
The names of the deceased have not been released but that information is expected this afternoon. The children were 9 and 12 years old, Fletcher said.
Public records show a 32-year-old woman, Bilha Omare, lived in the apartment.
Around 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, deputies were called to check on the welfare of a person at Willow Ridge Apartments on the 1200 block of County Road D, the sheriff’s office said.
“Unfortunately, when they arrived they discovered a terrible tragedy,” Fletcher said. “A mother and her two children had been murdered and the suspect at the time was not at the scene.”
The bodies of the woman and children were in separate rooms, with the doors closed. The woman was in the bathroom. Fletcher declined to comment on how the victims were killed.
Working with apartment management, deputies determined the woman had a husband, Kebabe, and a child who weren’t there, Fletcher said.
Investigators do not yet know how long the mother and children had been dead. The woman had not been to work this week. The children had been reported sick and were not in school this
week, Fletcher said.
Photo: Kinley and Ivyn Ogendi who were murdered along with their mother Bilha Omare in MN
It’s possible the kids were killed earlier in the week, but the mother may have been dead before the children, Fletcher said.
Surveillance video showed Kebabe leaving the building at 4:51 p.m. Wednesday, Fletcher said, so “we know that the deaths occurred prior to that.”
“The scene is horrific because we don’t know for sure how long they’ve been dead,” Fletcher said. The children not being in school “lends credence to the fact that they were either murdered earlier
in the week or that they were held in the room for the entire period of time while their mother was in the building, deceased,” the sheriff said.
A Minnesota State Patrol trooper arrested Kebabe about 10:30 p.m. along Interstate 35, just south of the Elko-New Market exit, said State Patrol spokesman Lt. Eric Roeske. The 3-year-old child was with him.
About 10 p.m., the Patrol took a report of a vehicle blocking a lane of I-35. Kebabe apparently had run out of gas, Roeske said, and before a trooper arrived, a woman helped push Kebabe car’s to the side of the highway.
Kebabe was gone when the trooper arrived. Soon after, the trooper spotted Kebabe and the man ran away. He was caught “pretty much immediately,” Roeske said. Kebabe was arrested and booked into the Rice County Jail on suspicion of impaired driving.
Troopers did not suspect alcohol and field sobriety tests were not given, Roeske said, adding, “His behavior was erratic enough they suspected something.”
While Kebabe was being processed at the jail, an alert went out that Ramsey County authorities were looking for Kebabe, he said.
A Ramsey County social services worker picked the child up about 4 a.m.
The call that summoned deputies came from a relative of the family who had concerns about Kebabe’s “erratic behavior,” Fletcher said. The caller “was worried about whether he was a danger to himself or others,” Fletcher said.
Kebabe had been arrested for misdemeanor domestic assault against his wife in the same apartment in December 2008. The case involved “a physical pushing assault,” Fletcher said. Kebabe pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the case, Fletcher said.
“Of course, that makes the event even more disturbing, that the system wasn’t able to intervene during that two-year period,” Fletcher said. He said deputies hadn’t been called to the apartment since the 2008 assault.
Vadnais Heights Mayor Sue Banovetz said Fletcher called her about 3 a.m. and told her what had happened.
“I felt physically ill,” she said, crying at this morning’s press conference. “It’s a very sad day in our community for this family and for the loss of a mother and two of her children. It’s easy and trite to say, I suppose, it never happens in my community. I don’t remember ever a time that this has happened. But it points out that domestic violence can happen at any community.”
Banovetz, who later put flowers at the apartment building’s door, noted that this Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“I would plead with anybody who is suffering, even a small bit in a home where there’s domestic violence, to please reach out for help,” she said.
Amanda Sjostrand, the apartment’s assistant manager, lives next door to the family. Her daughter usually goes to the bus stop with the children.
“I assumed they were sick because they weren’t out,” she said. “I heard nothing going on suspicious or anything. I just didn’t think anything of it at the time.”
Sjostrand said she didn’t know the adults well, but her children played with the children who were killed.
They were “just beautiful, beautiful caring children,” Sjostrand said. “… They were always taking care of my little one. They were always saying, ‘Hi how are you doing?’ in the hallways. They were just well raised children. They were beautiful, beautiful hearts and they’re going to be truly missed by a lot of people in the building.”
Kebabe was also friendly, Sjostrand said, adding that she “never really suspected anything.”
Kebabe came from Kenya about 10 years ago, Fletcher said. He and his wife both worked, though Fletcher declined to say where.
Marisa Vette, communications director at White Bear Lake Area Schools, would not confirm the two oldest children were enrolled the district’s schools, including Willow Lane Elementary. She said the apartment complex falls within the boundary of the school.
Because parent-teacher conferences were held today across the district, district staff, including Willow Lane Principal Barbara Kearn, spent most of the day at the apartment to “give support to students who live there and their parents,” Vette said.
Conferences also are scheduled for Friday, so students won’t be back to schools until Monday, Vette said.
“We’ll have extra support for any students that need it,” she said.
Fletcher said that people at the sheriff’s office don’t remember “a tragedy of this magnitude. We can say definitively for the last 33 years that there has not been a triple homicide in the jurisdiction the sheriff patrols, in the seven contract cities.”
And, with young children slain, “It would be tough to imagine a tragedy as bad as this one,” Fletcher said.
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