If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, a national call service is available and provides a 24-hour service. To get help, call: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or text "Hope4SC" to 741741.
Bouquets of flowers rest in front of a Whitetail Circle residence as rain trickles down the petals.
Next to a vase of red roses lay three stuffed toys for three siblings who were slain in their beds by the father of two of them.
Their mother had called 911 about 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, according to Sumter Police Department. When police arrived at the home, they found her children shot to death and her ex-husband, Charles Edward Slacks Jr., 42, dead by apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Russell Roark and Sumter County Coroner Robbie Baker shared information regarding the case. Sumter Police Department’s Investigations Unit sat in the back of the room, quiet as both spoke.
Roark said the mother, Aletha Holliday, was in her backyard with a coworker when Slacks entered the home using a key, walked outside and fired several shots at the coworker. Slacks then went back inside with Holliday in tow. Roark said he began to go upstairs, where the three children were sleeping, and pointed a gun in her direction. It was not indicated that he fired at her.
According to Roark, Slacks and Holliday had two children together, Aason Holliday-Slacks, 6, and Aayden Holliday-Slacks, 5. He was a step-father to her oldest child, Ava Holliday, 11.
Holliday’s cellphone was charging upstairs, and she was unable to call 911, Roark said. She ran outside to get a phone from the man who was shot in the backyard. She was unable to locate his phone and heard several gunshots fired in the house.
“She comes back in the residence. She goes back up the stairs. Mr. Slacks is at the top of the stairs, puts the weapon to his head and commits suicide in her presence,” Roark said.
She continued up the stairs to find her cellphone. She found Aason, Aayden and Ava dead.
“She exited her residence and ran across the street to a neighbor, where she was seeking help and at the same time speaking with 911, providing information,” Roark said.
The neighbor, who is reported to be security personnel at Shaw Air Force Base, entered the home to clear it before officers' arrival, Roark said. According to the incident report, officers found Holliday at the top of the stairs and secured the scene, and EMS tried performing life-saving measures before transporting Holliday's coworker, a 38-year-old man, to Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital, where he succumbed to his multiple injuries.
“There’s some logistical issues as far as who’s the actual legal next of kin, so we do not, at the office, release the individual until we get in touch,” Baker said.
Holliday and the man worked together at U.S. Army Central, which is headquartered on Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. According to her LinkedIn page and DVIDS, a military-owned communication service that distributes photos, videos and articles from all branches of the U.S. military, as of 2022, Holliday was ranked sergeant major and serves as chief culinary manager. She was featured in the background of a recent Sumter Today episode by The Sumter Item on Sumter Rotary Club's Farm to Table event, seen hosting a booth with goodies from her catering company, Chocolate Brown Sugar, which makes "gourmet brownies and hand-dipped chocolate deliciousness."
Maj. Jason Welch confirmed with The Sumter Item two people assigned to USARCENT died in the murder-suicide. Roark indicated Slacks was formerly in the military. It was not known whether he had been diagnosed with or suffered from PTSD or other mental health matters.
Welch said the military waits 24 hours before releasing the names of deceased individuals.
Sumter's coroner, Robbie Baker, said one autopsy will be conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina on Thursday morning, the two young boys' will be Friday morning at MUSC, and Slacks and his stepdaughter will be autopsied Saturday morning at MUSC.
“They did all die from apparent gunshot,” Baker said.
Sumter Police Department confirmed they're treating the deaths as four homicides and a suicide, Roark said.
Baker said law enforcement agencies worked through the night at the scene. He asked media in attendance Wednesday to put themselves in the mother’s shoes and think of the family during this time.
“This has been a tragic event for our community, for at least two families, for our first responders, our officers, EMS and firefighters who were on the scene. As adults, we’re not conditioned to bury children,” Roark said. “This touches us all. When you have a situation where little children are sleeping in the comfort of their own bed, and to not only have their life taken but particularly by a father and a stepfather, that’s difficult for us to rationalize.”
Sumter School District Superintendent William Wright Jr. confirmed Wednesday that Aason and Aayden attended Millwood Elementary School, and Ava attended Alice Drive Middle School.
School counselors and the district’s Crisis Response Team are at the schools for students and staff who need assistance with the loss.
“Our hearts are filled with sadness, and we will continue to lend support to one another during this time,” Wright said.
Roark said it is unknown why or how Slacks had a key to the residence or how long the two had been divorced. Investigators think the pair shared custody of their two children. A motive for the shooting is unknown, Roark said.
“We’ve got a mother that is in her own home, an individual who she had a relationship with, at one point had trust with, who shared two children with that they brought into this world. She is distraught,” Roark said. “I think that anybody that has children, anybody that has empathy related to a child dying so violently, could understand how that mother is feeling.”
Out of respect for Holliday, The Sumter Item chose not to share its photos and footage of her.
He asked all to pray for the family and those affected. He said to his knowledge, this is a case with one of the most people to be slain by a family member in Sumter.
There have been four fatal shootings so far this year in Sumter County that have resulted in eight deaths, including the Tuesday shooting, according to The Sumter Item's previous reporting. Two of the eight deaths were self-inflicted.
Alaysha Maple contributed to this article.
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