Police in Joliet, Illinois, are investigating an apparent murder-suicide after a woman there shot her twin daughters on Monday before turning the gun on herself

By Harriet Sokmensuer
August 30, 2017 01:03 PM

Police in Joliet, Illinois, are investigating an apparent murder-suicide after a woman there shot her twin daughters on Monday before turning the gun on herself, PEOPLE confirms.

Celisa Henning, 41, and her 5-year-old daughters, Addison and Makayla, were found dead of gunshot wounds in their home on Monday afternoon, Joliet police said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

According to the Will County Coroner’s Office in Illinois, Henning died of a single gunshot wound to the head while her daughters suffered multiple gunshots to the head.

Shortly after 3 p.m. that day, police responded to a 911 call after the girls’ father came home to find his family dead, a Joliet police official tells PEOPLE. Authorities say there is no clear motive as to why Henning would take her and her daughters’ lives.

“We really don’t know why someone would kill their two lovely children like that and turn the gun on themselves,” says Joliet Deputy Police Chief Al Roechner. “It’s really hard, because you wish you could have stopped it from happening.”

“There were no previous indicators that there was cause for concern from our end,” Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said, according to local TV station WLS reports. “I’m not sure what prompted this. But again, it’s a terrible tragedy and we are very sensitive to the concerns of the family.”

Speaking to the Daily Southtown, the girls’ paternal grandfather, Dennis Henning, described Celisa as “disturbed.” However, Roechner says there are no records of her having mental health issues.

Dennis said the children spent Monday with her at their home and that their father, who had trouble reaching his wife throughout the day, found their bodies about 3:30 p.m. The girls’ father could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Dennis said he is “grieving.”

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Days before their deaths, a neighbor recalled seeing the twins, who had started kindergarten the week before, police said.

“I happened to come across an art pack of pencils that had strawberries on them, and I wrote them [the girls] a little note to wish them a happy school year and hopefully they would become great artists and love drawing and the pencils would make them smile and come see me,” Adele Bryant told local station WBBM.

Bryant told WLS that the Henning twins loved dogs and “were very excited about school, always helping mom, very close to her mom.”

“It’s just very sad,” Bryant said. “I just — having been a former teacher and counselor, I’m feeling very sad that whatever was going on was not noticed. A missed opportunity.”

According to police, Henning left a note for her family, which has not been released.

“I don’t know if we ever will be able to figure out why she did what she did,” Deputy Chief Roechner tells PEOPLE. “Everyone involved in this is a victim, unfortunately, the whole family, her parents, his parents, the girls — it’s just horrible.”

“She [Celisa] was a troubled girl,” Dennis Henning told the Southtown of his daughter-in-law, as some locals are still grappling with the reality of her actions.

“If she did this, I can’t imagine the terror in her heart,” said neighbor Joan Paul, the Southtown reports. “Those kids were her life. She was an excellent mother.”

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At a vigil Tuesday evening outside the Henning home, community members left flowers and teddy bears at a makeshift memorial.

“I’d like to extend my condolences to the family and friends of those affected by this horrific incident,” Joliet Mayor Robert O’Dekirk said in a statement.

“It’s inconceivable,” Michelle Brenczewski, who attended the vigil, told the Southtown. “But we don’t know what is going with anyone else, so there’s no room for judgment in this situation, just lots of prayers for those left behind.”

Roechner urges anyone having suicidal thoughts to ask for help and for those with concerns about others to do the same.

“If you feel like someone is having issues, intervene,” he says. “Do what you can to help them out.”

Suicide Prevention: What to Know

Experts say some common warning signs of suicide include discussing a desire to die or feeling anxious or hopeless, like a burden, or trapped or in pain; withdrawing from others; extreme mood swings, including anger and recklessness; and abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little).

Many suicides have multiple causes and are not triggered by one event, according to experts, who underline that suicidal crises can be overcome with help. Where mental illness is a factor, it can be treated.

Reaching out to those in need is a simple and effective preventative measure, experts say.

If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, texting the Crisis Text Lineat 741741 or seeking help from a professional.

• With reporting by CHRIS HARRIS