An Arizona man is accused of gunning down and beating to death his wife and two of his small daughters “because he believed God told him to do so,” police officials said.
Austin Elijah Smith's youngest daughter, who turned 3 over the weekend, survived the attack on her mother and sisters by hiding under a bed, KTVK in Phoenix reported. She was found uninjured by police officers who went to the family's home Thursday night.
The officers found the bodies of Smith's wife, Dasia Patterson, 29, and two of their children, Mayan Smith, 7, and Nasha Smith, 5, inside the home, KTVK reported. Patterson and Nasha Smith died of gunshot wounds, police officials said.
Mayan Smith died of blunt force trauma, according to the news station.
"We've been working on this all night," Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said during a Friday morning news conference outside the Smith family's home.
Austin Smith, 30, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in connection with his family’s deaths, authorities said. He is also accused of killing a man at a second crime scene.
Smith is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ron Freeman, 46, also of Phoenix. He is also charged with three counts of aggravated assault, one count of kidnapping and discharging a firearm at a residence.
Smith was quiet during his initial court appearance until the judge mentioned the kidnapping charge.
"Kidnapping? Who?" Smith asked, according to footage of his appearance from the Maricopa County Jail, into which he was booked early Friday.
The judge told him he should talk to his attorneys before speaking to her directly.
Prosecutors requested a $2 million cash bond based on the nature of the crimes and the seriousness of the charges. Smith’s public defenders asked for a “reasonable” bond for their client.
The judge said the requested bond was reasonable, pointing to the nature of the case, Smith’s flight risk and the strength of the evidence. She cited his alleged confession to police as part of that evidence.
KTVK reported that Smith told investigators the violence began at his home after his wife came home from a bar Thursday night. According to a police report, Smith said Patterson denied having an affair with his brother, but he shot her "because he believed God told him to do so."
He then killed Nasha Smith because she “had exhibited bad behavior he deemed against God’s laws,” the news station reported.
Mayan Smith was crying about the slayings, Smith told investigators. He said he "believed you should not weep for the wicked, so he punched her in the face several times with a closed fist," KTVK said.
Austin Smith also threw the girl against the ceiling and the floor, the report said. He ultimately killed Mayan by beating her in the head with a baseball bat, police authorities said.
According to the report, Smith told investigators he didn't kill his 3-year-old daughter "because she reminded him of himself." The other two girls "reminded him of his wife, whom he considered wicked in the eyes of God," KTVK reported.
The second crime scene was an apartment where Smith’s brother was living, the news station reported. It was his brother with whom Smith believed Patterson was cheating.
When he arrived at the apartment the night of the killings, he first encountered Freeman, who is a friend of the family. Smith "confronted this victim with the belief Austin's brother was cheating with Austin's wife," the police report said.
When the man told Smith he was crazy for the suggestion, Smith shot him multiple times, the report said.
He then reloaded and shot Freeman several more times as he lay on the floor, police officials said.
Credit: AP Photo/Matt York
Credit: AP Photo/Matt York
Smith is accused of going out to his vehicle and returning with a rifle, with which he shot two more people attempting to help the mortally wounded Freeman. A 47-year-old woman was left in critical condition and a 33-year-old man suffered serious injuries.
Smith considered those victims "co-conspirators with his wife," KTVK reported. Though police did not identify either of the surviving shooting victims, Freeman's mother told ABC15 in Phoenix that they were Smith's brother and Freeman's girlfriend.
Someone at the scene that night called 911. Smith was arrested a short time later as he fled his brother’s apartment complex in his vehicle.
Thompson described the scene as “chaotic,” with first responders working to help the victims while uncertain where the gunman was at the time. He said it was one of the victims at the second crime scene who expressed concern over the safety of Smith’s wife and children.
Their bodies and the surviving child were found during a welfare check, Thompson said during the news conference.
See the entire news conference with Thompson below, courtesy of KTVK.
Patterson's mother, Cynthia Patterson, told ABC15 that her family had been preparing to celebrate a high school graduation, but instead, now must plan three funerals.
"My daughter was one of the most humble (people) in the world," Cynthia Patterson told the news station. "Sweet, honest and wouldn't harm anyone."
She also talked about her grandchildren who were slain.
"They were the most beautiful, sweetest children in the world," she said.
The Patterson family also released the following statement Friday night:
“We are in anguish over the senseless loss of our beloved Dasia and her young children. As we try to process our profound grief, our focus is on the welfare of her sole surviving 3-year-old daughter. She just lost her mother and sisters, and we want nothing more than for her to be with her family right now.
“We understand that it is the weekend, but we are hoping that the authorities can help reunite us with her as soon as possible so that she is not in the care of strangers at this incredibly painful time. Finally, we ask that the public respect our privacy so that we may begin healing.”
Freeman’s mother, Sharon Fells, said her son had no idea Smith’s wife and children were dead when he was confronted by the alleged killer.
"My son turned his back on him and he shot my son in the back," Fells said of Freeman, who lived in the apartment adjacent to Smith's brother's apartment.
Fells told ABC15 her son was a U.S. Marine veteran who is survived by eight children. On a GoFundMe page set up to pay for Freeman's funeral, his sister, Lisa Freeman, describes her brother as a "true patriotic American who serviced this country with honor and prestige."
Fells said she is finding solace where she can.
“The one thing that brings me peace is (that) I know where he is, and he is with God now,” Fells told the news station.