November 26, 2013

Authorities arrest man in connection with killing of woman, three children in Parsons

Authorities on Tuesday arrested a man wanted in connection with the homicides of a 29-year-old woman and her three young children, who were found dead in their Parsons home Monday after the mother was reported missing by colleagues concerned that she hadn’t shown up for work.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Cami Umbarger’s job title. She is a licensed practical nurse.

Authorities on Tuesday arrested a man wanted in connection with the homicides of a 29-year-old woman and her three young children, who were found dead in their Parsons home Monday after the mother was reported missing by colleagues concerned that she hadn’t shown up for work.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office confirmed late Tuesday that David Cornell Bennett Jr. had been taken into custody at 9:15 p.m. in Independence, located about 30 miles south and west of Parsons. The arrest ends a daylong manhunt for the 22-year-old, who had been sought by authorities in the deaths of Cami Umbarger and her three young children – Hollie, Jaxon and Averie.

Bennett, of Cherryvale, was spotted earlier Tuesday at an Independence Dollar General store, located on the west side of town, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said following the 12:45 p.m. sighting. The sheriff’s office had advised residents that he should be considered armed and dangerous.

As of Tuesday, no formal charges against Bennett had been filed, according to a written statement received Tuesday from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s Office.

Authorities remain tight-lipped about the investigation, refusing to say how the family died or what relationship, if any, Umbarger had with the suspect.

During a phone interview with The Eagle on Tuesday, Wichitan Beth Umbarger said family and friends told her Bennett and her sister “had went out a few times” a few months ago.

But, she said, the 29-year-old single mother apparently “broke it off” after her suitor “started acting pretty scary toward my sister.”

“She’d been trying to stay away from him and he just kept coming back and going back,” Beth Umbarger said.

“She was just hoping that he would leave her alone ... and she would be able to move past it.”

Authorities found Cami Umbarger and her three children dead in their home at 415 N. 25th St. in Parsons on Monday, Beth Umbarger said. She said that autopsies were being performed and that it would be two or three days before family learned more.

She called her nieces and nephew “happy kids – always on the run, wanting to play.”

Nine-year-old Hollie, a fourth-grader, loved to play tackle football, arguing with her mom that volleyball wasn’t her sport.

Six-year-old Jaxon, a kindergartener, took karate lessons.

The youngest, 4-year-old preschooler named Averie, “was a bundle of energy.”

Their mother, meanwhile, was helping to plan Beth’s January wedding, where she would serve as maid of honor.

“I want them back. I miss them. You go through life every day and you never expect that this would happen to you,” Beth Umbarger said.

“I want to tell her one more time ‘I love you’ and I want to hug the kids and hear them ... come running to me one more time.”

Police reportedly learned that Umbarger was missing after her co-workers at Good Samaritan Society of Parsons alerted police Monday that she didn’t show up for work, facility administrator Joanna Wilson said. Authorities later discovered that the children were missing, too.

“That’s just not like her,” said Wilson of Umbarger, who worked as a licensed practical nurse.

“We’re a close-knit group. If someone is missing and you were expecting her, you’d reach out and see where they are.”

Wilson said Umbarger had worked for the hospice and therapy facility for “quite a long time.” Her children, she added, were beautiful and “part of the family,” growing up around staff and residents.

Family said Cami Umbarger was also employed part-time by Parsons Presbyterian Manor. She graduated from nursing school in 2006.

“She has many dear friends (here), and we’re working through it,” Wilson said of Cami and her children’s deaths. “It’s been a tough time.”

Additional counselors were called in Tuesday to talk to students and staff at Parsons schools, which Umbarger’s three children attended, district superintendent Shelly Martin said. She said school officials received word of the deaths Monday evening, “so we were prepared” when students and teachers returned Tuesday, the final school day before Thanksgiving break.

The counselors, as well as substitute teachers, also will be on hand when classes resume after the holiday, Martin said. Parsons, a district with 1,360 students total, has three elementary schools: Lincoln, for pre-kindergarten through first grade; Garfield, for second- and third-graders; and Guthridge, which serves grades four and five.

Umbarger’s children attended two of those.

“At both schools, we tried to keep the day as normal as possible for the children,” Martin , the superintendent, said.

She called the killings a tragedy.

“Obviously everyone is deeply saddened and shocked by the news of the death of our students and their mother. In a town the size of Parsons, this affects everyone.”

A candlelight vigil to remember Cami Umbarger and her children is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday in front of the family’s home at 415 N. 25th St. in Parsons. Funeral services have been set for 2 p.m. Monday at Thayer Christian Church, 8495 Dorn Rd. in Thayer.

Visitation will be from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Forbes-Hoffman Funeral Home, 405 Main St. in Parsons.

Parsons is approximately 125 miles southeast of Wichita in Labette County.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle

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