Patrick Dell, 41, spared his biological 1- and 3-year-old children, who were in the house during his middle-of-the-night rampage. It appeared his targets were calculated: Police said Dell and his wife, Natasha Whyte-Dell, 36, had been going through a divorce.
A fifth stepchild, 15-year-old Ryan Barnett, also was shot in the house but was expected to survive.
The horror that unfolded around 2 a.m. Monday was the culmination of what appears to be a lengthy dispute. Whyte-Dell had told police in December that her husband had been terrorizing her for months, and she told friends he had been following her to work and nursing school despite a restraining order. She said he had even installed cameras in the house to watch her, and neighbors said they saw him come to the house - but he would park several blocks away.
It came to a head Dec. 20, when Whyte-Dell said her husband came after her with a knife, slashed her tires and scratched an "X" into the concrete driveway.
He made a particularly chilling threat: "You will be going to the morgue," he told her, according to a police report. "Your family is going to cry today."
After that incident - five days before Christmas - Whyte-Dell told police she feared for her life. Dell was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief. The Department of Children and Families investigated after the knife attack, but closed the case two months later and never removed the children, spokeswoman Elisa Cramer said.
Still, time after time, friends said Whyte-Dell took her husband back, hoping things would get better.
"She was supposed to stay away from him," Lydia Smith, a friend of the victims, said Monday as she stood in front of the crime scene crying. "He was extremely jealous, obsessive and possessive."
Dell seemed paranoid, a neighbor said, always thinking someone was against him. On Sunday, while he was at a club, he was asked to leave after making a drunken threat.
"He was talking about chopping up somebody," said neighbor Keisha Gordon, 30.
Gordon said she left the club with Dell and went to a nearby park, the last place Gordon saw him before the shootings.
A police officer was checking a suspicious vehicle around 2 a.m. when he heard what sounded like muffled gun shots, Riviera Beach Police spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown said. When officers approached the home, Dell went outside and shot himself, she said.
Inside the home, officers found the bodies of the woman and her four children: 10-year-old Daniel Barnett; 11-year-old Javon Nelson; 13-year-old Diane Barnett; and 14-year-old Bryan Barnett.
The small home where the killings happened was a popular hangout for neighborhood kids, who loved using the front-yard basketball hoop and closeness to a trim cemetery across the street that often was used as a park. Just a few doors down sits an immaculate red-brick church.
On Monday, a silver chain-link fence had been tangled with yellow crime-scene tape. A black mailbox was on a post outside with a single balloon in the shape of a red heart tied to it.
Neighbors said gunshots had become an all-too-common sound in the area. Jeanette Walker, a 56-year-old hairstylist who lives nearby, said she thought nothing of the gunfire because she heard no sirens.
"They over there shooting at each other again," she remembered thinking.
--- Associated Press Writer Suzette Laboy in Miami contributed to this report.