UPDATED at 8:30 p.m. Thursday with photos of victims, additional information from a nephew.
ST. LOUIS — Police took a 34-year-old man into custody Thursday, hours after the bodies of a woman and her two young daughters were found in a triple shooting in their Dutchtown neighborhood home.
Family members stood nearby, sobbing and hugging, as they watched police come and go from the home in the 4100 block of South Grand Boulevard. Police responded about 7 a.m. for a report of shots fired, and officers found the three victims dead inside the home.
“It was very gruesome, very tragic,” police Chief John Hayden told the Post-Dispatch near the brick, two-family home. “I’m sure the officers were traumatized by what they saw.”
Hayden described the shooting as a triple homicide rather than a murder-suicide. Police did not provide any details on the man who later was taken into custody.
Police haven’t identified the victims, but Jermaine Walker, an older brother of the woman who died, identified his sister as 30-year-old Kanisha Hemphill. Her older daughter, Journee, was 8 years old. The youngest, 1-year-old Jakari, went by a family nickname of “ReRe.”
Police said each victim suffered "numerous gunshot wounds throughout their bodies."
Hemphill was a home health aide, recently caring for her 84-year-old father by cooking and cleaning for him, Walker said.
Walker said Hemphill was a doting parent and her daughters were her pride and joy. Hemphill was licensed to carry a firearm; she wanted to own a weapon for protection because she lived alone with her children, Walker said.
Walker said he believes his sister knew her killer. “She let him in,” he said.
Walker and other relatives said they immediately suspected her ex-boyfriend, who is the father of the infant. He had a violent streak, they said, and was at the house Sunday firing shots at someone standing on her front porch. They said police weren’t called about it.
A family member said detectives were searching for that former boyfriend, but police wouldn’t confirm that they were. No charges have been filed, and it was not immediately clear if the 34-year-old who was in custody was the ex-boyfriend.
Robert Walker, another brother of Hemphill, noted the arrest on social media, saying, “Thank God they got him before we did.”
Alex Walker, 25, is the nephew of Hemphill and cousin to the two girls who died. “This is a real shock,” he said. “Pure evil.”
The home on South Grand is across from a PNC Bank and a couple doors down from a convenience store. Police were searching for surveillance cameras and had cordoned off a half block of South Grand. They also were scouring a back alley for clues.
A woman who lives two blocks away and asked not to be identified said her 11-year-old son heard gunshots as he waited at the bus stop at Virginia Avenue and Gasconade Street.
“We hear gunshots every day. I’m dead serious. Every night. I’ve heard gunshots in the alley at noon on a Sunday,” said the resident, who has lived in Dutchtown the last eight months. “And I’ve been ready to move out the last five.”
Hayden said detectives need the help of the community. “We need to solve this,” he said. “And we can. But we have to have people come forward.”
St. Louis last year experienced its highest recorded murder rate. Even before Thursday’s triple killing, the city had recorded more homicides so far this year than it had recorded at the this time last year. There were 20 homicides this year as of Wednesday night, compared with 15 during the first 34 days of 2020.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct details about the daughters, based on information from medical examiner's office.