Man shoots St. Louis woman dead in front of their children
Friday September 18, 2009--Police officers search for evidence at the scene of a murder sucide at the corner of Park Ave and Ewing Ave in St. Louis on Friday. According to witnesses the women's four children were in the car when a man she knew appoarched her and shot her. (David Carson/P-D)BY DENISE HOLLINSHED AND CAROLYN TUFT
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. LOUIS — Melissa Amerson asked last month for a court protection order against the father of her four children, writing on a form, "He has a weapon & has threatened to kill me."
Just after 8 a.m. Friday, in front of their youngsters, he carried out the threat.
As Amerson, 26, slumped dead outside her home in the 2800 block of Park Avenue, her attacker, Rodney D. Morris-El Sr., 37, walked about 30 feet into a yard and killed himself with a shot to the head, police said.
The children, identified as Mia, 10, Rodney, 7, and twins, Lonnie and Tia, 5, were not harmed, officials said.
Police Lt. Ed Kuehner confirmed it was a murder-suicide.
The victim's father, Ty Amerson, said his daughter was slain while loading the youngsters into her minivan outside the four-family flat. He said all the children belonged to both of them.
"They have been having problems," he said.
Ty Amerson said he was home in Kirkwood when his 10-year-old granddaughter called to say that Morris-El had killed her mom.
St. Louis Circuit Court records show that Melissa Amerson obtained a temporary order of protection Aug. 29 to keep Morris-El from coming near her, but it had not been served because sheriff's deputies could not find him. She failed to attend a hearing Thursday and the order was terminated.
In court documents, Melissa Amerson cited the threat, and said Morris-El had coerced, stalked and harassed her.
Protection order papers say Morris-El had been charged with third-degree assault after allegedly cutting her with car keys on Aug. 9, although there was no record of it in other court files.
Her father said Friday he understood that she had been unable to get off work Thursday to make the protection order permanent.
But the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, where she worked as an administrative secretary, said there was no indication that she had sought the time off.
"Given the situation, certainly if she had asked for time off we are certain we would have accommodated that request," said Vicki Biggs, the director of public affairs. "Obviously our hearts go out to all of Melissa's family."
Ron Schultz, the chief administrative officer, said Melissa had been employed there since October 2006. "Her tragic and untimely death this morning shocked and saddened all of us," he said in a prepared statement.
A protection order — a judge's warning to stay away or face legal consequences — obviously offers no shield against someone bent on murder, officials say.
Aaron Foster, 37, a neighbor of Amerson's, said he heard a loud thud Friday morning and thought it was the top on his uncle's convertible. Then he heard children screaming.
"I opened up the door and I see Mia — which is the oldest child — running from the van into my apartment," Foster said. "She said, 'Please help me. My mom has just been shot.'"
Foster said he looked outside and saw Melissa Amerson slumped over in the van. "She's in this position, like I'm assuming she's putting the twins in their booster seats, to get ready for school," he said. "She's shaking."
Foster, a former emergency medical technician, said he checked her pulse and realized she was dead.
"I took the kids out of the back seat, Rodney and the two twins," he said. "They were screaming and yelling. My Uncle Steve came outside then and I told him to take the kids and get them into the house. As I looked over to my right, I see the assailant take the gun and point it at me. He pulled it back then shot himself in the head."
Foster said he looked back at Melissa Amerson and realized she had been shot at least three times.
A handgun lay near Morris-El's body.
"From the way she was positioned in the van, there was no blood in the van, so he had to have shot her from the back," Foster theorized.
Foster said Melissa Amerson had lived in her apartment for at least two years. He said there had been prior domestic abuse. Last month, he said, Morris-El beat Melissa outside their apartment in front of neighbors. The two had been separated for at least two weeks, he said.
Some neighbors had said they saw Morris-El driving his black truck around the neighborhood recently. Court documents listed his home address as unknown but said he worked at a gas station in Berkeley.
Foster said just before Morris-El shot his ex-girlfriend, they had been arguing back and forth.
He said she had been in a "jovial mood" this week, planning to go out Friday night to celebrate her birthday, which was two days earlier.