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Dad sought split with wife before killing, friend says

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:08 PM
CLEARWATER -

Murphy Brown's wife and two young boys were dead by the time he got home early Saturday morning.

Hours before, Brown had told his wife, Dawn, whom he'd married eight years ago, that he wanted to leave her. Then he went out for the night.

That was just the latest blow for the Browns, but it would prove cataclysmic. Sometime that night, the 34-year-old mother killed her two sons, 9-year-old Zander and 5-year-old Zayden, and then hanged herself from a bedroom ceiling fan with an electrical cord, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Murphy Brown is left with questions and trying to get along, his father, Bryon Brown, said today.

"He's doing kind of bad. He's distraught, feeling guilt," said Bryon Brown. "He's trying to cope. We're all trying to cope. … He'll never get over it. He's just going to have to live with it."

Byron Brown has good memories of Dawn Brown, and praised her work ethic and ability to try to be a working mother.

 "She was a hard-working person and she had tried, while raising her two boys, to get her a teaching certificate.

"She was an excellent, wonderful mom," said Byron Brown.

 But, last year’s arrest for welfare fraud appeared to make a change in Dawn Brown.

 "When that happened, it just affected her because she could never work as a teacher," Byron Brown said.

  "She was a happy person, but after the arrest, she just spiraled down," said Byron Brown. "Some people can handle things and some people can't.

 "She just gave up, you know? She wouldn't take care of herself. She didn't take care of the house," said Byron Brown.

Brown saw that there was a need for some kind of help, and tied to get his son to reach out.

"I had spoken to Murph a few months before that and explained to him that she needed help," Byron Brown said. "Deep down they have a problem, a mental problem, that needs to be addressed."

Vernita Brown, Murphy Brown's stepmother, said she is still trying to think of a reason for what happened, and has spoken to her pastor to get some perpective.

"We may not ever know the reason," she said. "Murph may not ever know the reasons, but is was in someone else’s hands."

Byron Brown saw that there was a need for some kind of help for his son’s family, and tied to get his son to reach out.

"I had spoken to Murph a few months before that and explained to him that she needed help," Byron Brown said. "Deep down they have a problem, a mental problem, that needs to be addressed."

Byron Brown said the two young boys were just like other children.

"They boys were fun loving and outgoing," said Byron Brown. "They loved to play outdoors and frolic and run like the other kids."

 Murphy Brown also liked to be in the outdoors with the two young boys.

"He took them to the park and to the beach, and they loved that. Swimming, and fishing, kayaking," said Byron Brown. "They weren't the kind to sit around and look at TV all day."

Murphy Brown found his boys in their beds when he returned home Saturday, tucked in, friend and neighbor William Lavold said. "Dawn had put them in their beds," he said.

Brown declined to be interviewed Sunday but agreed to answer a few questions through Lavold, who relayed a reporter's questions during a phone call with Brown.

Authorities have not said how the boys were killed, discussed a motive or said whether Dawn Brown left a suicide note.

The medical examiner's office will determine the official cause of death after conducting autopsies.

Lavold, who went into the house after Brown discovered his family's bodies, said it looked as though the boys had been drowned. He saw water all over the bathroom floor. "[And] there were six towels kicked to the side," he said. But he saw no blood or signs of a struggle.

Since Saturday, Murphy Brown, 36, has been in seclusion with family. He's devastated, said Lavold.

"He can't function," Lavold said. "He can't figure it out. He's done in. He's really done in."

Brown had told his wife he wanted to leave her. But while that may explain what set in motion the horrors at the family's home, at 2015 Sydney St. in unincorporated Clearwater, so many questions remain unanswered.

"What we're not understanding is why she decided to take her children with her," Lavold said.

"Nobody knows. This is what we've all been asking. He doesn't know."

To be sure, life in the Brown home had become increasingly strained.

By Friday night, the power at the family's home had been shut off for days, and the Browns were relying on a neighbor who was supplying them electricity through an extension cord.

The home has been in foreclosure proceedings at least three times since 2002, with the most recent case filed in February, according to court records.

Money was tight. Dawn Brown didn't work, and her husband struggled to make a living repairing cars.

Then there was Dawn Brown's arrest last year.

Brown was charged with welfare fraud on June 8, 2011, under her maiden name of Dawn Michelle Barylski. On Sept. 12, just days before deputies say she killed herself and her children, Brown entered a written plea of not guilty in the case.

After her arrest, Brown stopped taking the classes she needed to become a teacher.

"It ruined her life," Lavold said.

"She loved kids so much," he said. "It's hard to see now, but she wanted to take care of children. She wanted more kids."

But Brown couldn't get a job with a felony arrest on her record, and she withdrew, Lavold said.

"She lived in the house, and didn't go out and do anything," he said. "She'd take the kids to school and home; she'd go out for groceries. Mostly, she sat and read books online. That was all she did."

Now, Murphy Brown can't bring himself to go home, and he doesn't have the money to bury his boys.

Lavold and other neighbors are banding together to help. They plan to essentially gut the house and sell off anything of value to pay for the funerals. Everything else will be thrown out, Lavold said.

"We are going to strip the house out," he said. "We will do whatever we can to turn this house into something different. …It's the only thing he has left, but he can't come home to it."

Neighbors are looking for donations to help with the renovation, including an industrial-sized trash bin and volunteers to help with the work.

Lavold also is collecting donations on his website, www.jdmengineimports.com.

"One-hundred percent of the donations are going to Murphy," Lavold said.

School officials at McMullen Booth Elementary School, where Zander was a student, will be helping his fellow students deal with what happened. Zayden was in kindergarten at another school.

"There will be four counselors at the school tomorrow," Pinellas County school district spokeswoman Melanie Marquez said Sunday. "Two more counselors are on standby."

 


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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