Four Annandale children, asked to recall the night their father was gunned down on their front porch, testified in a Fairfax courtroom yesterday that they did not know or care how their father died.

The testimony, which came during a four-hour preliminary hearing, broke a five-month silence in the case of Patricia Schaefer, 47, who has been charged with murder in the March 6 shooting death of her husband. Richard Schaefer, 53, died on the front steps of their home on the eve of a final divorce hearing.

He had gone there for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled visit with some of the children -- the first time he was to have seen them in several years, according to testimony. About 7:40 p.m. he was shot six times. The shooting was reported to police by Patricia Schaefer's divorce attorney.

Yesterday, one by one, each child took the witness stand in Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Three of the children and Patricia Schaefer were at home at the time their father was killed, they said.

The three -- Sibyl, 12, Garth, 14, and Corbin, 20 -- testified that they were all in their separate bedrooms that night when each of them heard sounds at the front door. One said he heard what he thought to be loud firecrackers; another said she heard a car backfire; another said he heard what might be tapping on concrete.

All of them said the noises were not important to them and they did not leave their rooms to find out what happened.

"I ignored them," said Garth Schaefer, who said he was in his room doing his homework and listening to the radio. "I didn't think they were anything important."

Garth said he first learned his father had been shot from a detective.

Sibyl Schaefer testified she never asked what happened to her father and nobody told her that her father had lain dying on the front porch, under her bedroom window.

"When were you first aware your father was shot?" Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. asked. "I don't remember," Sibyl said. "I read a newspaper and it said that."

Horan asked several times whether she knew who shot her father or whether she cared.

Sibyl, her long brown hair pulled off her face, sat on her hands and answered: "I don't know who or whether I care. Okay?"

"My mother's lawyer said I had the right to remain silent," Sybil testified.

Patricia Schaefer sat silent next to her attorney during the hearing. When each of the children was called into the courtoom, they looked at their mother and she gave them a smile.

Quin Schaefer, 18, who Horan said was at work at the time of the shooting, took the stand and refused to answer questions "on grounds that any other question would incriminate me."

Judge Gaylord L. Finch Jr. ruled that Quin must answer questions and Finch would consider self-incrimination on a question-by-question basis.

Horan asked Quin whether he wanted to know who shot his father.

"Truthfully? No," he replied.

"Is that because you didn't care who shot him?" Horan asked.

"That's correct," Quin answered.

Patricia Schaefer's lawyer, Chanda Kinsey, had originally tried to close yesterday's hearing to news reporters, arguing that press coverage would harm the children. Her motion, opposed by lawyers for The Washington Post and the Fairfax Journal, was rejected by Judge Arnold B. Kassabian.

After the last child left the stand, Sgt. Gregory W. Smith testified that when police arrived at the house, it was darkened. Smith said he used a neighbor's telephone to call the Schaefer house. Smith said a woman answered the phone. "The response I got was, 'I want to talk to my lawyer,' " he said, then the woman hung up. He called back and the woman said her husband was on the front porch.

Smith said he went to the house and asked where the gun was and Patricia Schaefer showed him to the bedroom and pointed to a sewing cabinet where he said he found a revolver.

Judge Finch ruled that there was probable cause to send the case to the grand jury and continued Schaefer's $50,000 bond.