Christopher Cadenbach met his mother, Diane, and his two sons, 5-year-old Ethan and 4-year-old Owen, for what police called a “pleasant day at the park” in St. Louis County on Saturday afternoon.

The elder son was in kindergarten at West Elementary, in Washington, Mo. The younger was in preschool.

Cadenbach’s estranged wife and the boys’ mother, Elisa Sartorius-Cadenbach, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he was always “a very attentive, loving, over-the-top caring individual for these boys.”

That changed Saturday in the most horrible way.

Sartorius-Cadenbach had accused Cadenbach of domestic abuse after she told him she wanted a divorce. She said he hurt her twice in the past nine days and sent a photograph of her bruised face to a friend, who forwarded it to police.

In response, officers went searching for Cadenbach on Saturday, while he was at the park, the Post-Dispatch reported.

He seemed to be aware of the search.

He told his mother that he “wasn’t going to be taken alive” and planned to commit “suicide by cop,” St. Louis County officials told KMOV-TV. At about 6:30 p.m., he took her Ford Focus, loaded his sons into it and sped off, leaving her behind.

His mother called police, who issued an Amber Alert.

After nearly an hour, a St. Louis County park ranger noticed the car in Cliff Cave Park along the Mississippi River, just before 8 p.m. The ranger called reinforcements, and a county police helicopter approached the scene. From the air, they watched a man walk toward the car.

Gunshots immediately followed.

“He was shooting his children,” St. Louis County Deputy Chief Ken Cox told the Post-Dispatch.

Police engaged Cadenbach in what Cox said was a “pitch-black” scene.

But police said Cadenbach, 43, first fatally shot Ethan and Owen, then himself.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Chuck Cathers, a neighbor, told KMOV. “That’s all I can say. It’s heartbreaking.”

“This is a quiet neighborhood. We come down here to the park all the time. We were just down here a couple weeks ago for Homecoming for our daughter,” he said.

The day after the murder-suicide, the boys’ bright orange jack-o-lantern candy baskets rested on a wooden bench in front of their house. Their baseball gloves sat next to them, leaning on their father’s large glove.

“I don’t feel like anyone thought he would be capable of this,” Sartorius-Cadenbach told the Post-Dispatch.

She said he did it as an act of revenge.

“I think that he snapped and knew that he was facing a lot of jail time,” she said. “And he did this to hurt me, and I guess as revenge for me for pressing charges against him. He was trying to get back at me and hurt me the best way he knew how.”

She said while Cadenbach was often the life of the party, at home, he was often a different person.

“Everybody loved him,” she told the newspaper. “They thought he was the greatest guy on the face of the earth.”

But privately, she said, he was slowly becoming obsessed with conspiracy theories about Freemasons and Illuminati and boiling over with rage. As time passed, his anger grew.

Some noticed, such Rick Marquart, who ran Marquart’s Landing, where Cadenbach held a regular trivia night.

“I could sense anger when someone questioned him on an answer,” Marquart said. “I sensed a little sarcasm. But I couldn’t imagine that guy doing something like that.”

“He’s been this way for nine years, but I think it’s gotten worse,” Sartorius-Cadenbach said. “Our stress level was raised after we had Ethan and Owen; our home life was definitely more stressful with two younger children, which I think led to more stress and arguments.”

One of their recurring arguments centered on the fact that she, as a nurse, was the family’s breadwinner. Aside from his trivia night, Cadenbach only had a photography hobby that brought in little money.

As a result, Sartorius-Cadenbach said, “[I was] constantly walking on eggshells.”

“If he’s in a good mood, the rest of the household will be in a good mood,” Sartorius-Cadenbach said. “But if he’s pissed off it reflects on the kids and the family.”

Others mostly had good impressions of Cadenbach.

“He would be out there with his boys all the time,” John Rothermel a neighbor, told the Post-Dispatch. “He used to teach them how to do woodwork projects. It looks like he was good to his kids, from a distance.”

The most heartbreaking part, Sartorius-Cadenbach said, was how much the boys cared for their father.

“It’s really sad,” she said. “Because they loved their dad.”

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