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Funeral planned for Grand Forks shooting victims as police try to answer why

Astra Volk and her children were found dead in a Grand Forks home Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Surviving family members have set funeral plans for the three siblings police say were killed by their mother last week while they slept at home.

Arianna Talmage, 6, Aidan Talmage, 10, and Tyler Talmage, 14, will have a memorial service at 3 p.m. Friday at Hope Covenant Church in Grand Forks. The service will be preceded by an hourlong visitation, with all funeral services to be provided by Amundson Funeral Home.

A director at the home said Amundson is not providing services for Astra Volk, 35, the mother of the children, saying Volk's family chose different arrangements for her.

After a preliminary investigation, authorities believe Volk committed suicide after killing the children sometime in the very early hours of Thursday morning. All four family members were found dead in the home, apparently killed by gunshots, by a school resource officer dispatched for a welfare check when the children didn't arrive for school in the morning. Investigators found a handgun in the house at 1006 S. 12th St. and are now working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives—ATF—to trace the weapon to its origin by using its serial number.

Grand Forks Police Lt. Brett Johnson said his office has already submitted the relevant information to the bureau and estimated the department could have results back within weeks.

With a basic explanation of what happened in the house, police are now turning to the question of why.

"Through some of the interviews that we did with friends and family, as well as what she herself put out on social media, there were some mental health issues at play," Johnson said. "We don't know exactly how that affected her decision to do what she did, but there has been discussion of it."

Volk had publicly discussed her struggles with mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder, in the time before her death. Her mother, Beth Richards, said Volk tried to commit suicide earlier this year. About a week before the killings, Volk posted a plea for financial help on fundraising site GoFundme, seeking money to cover living expenses in the wake of hospitalizations due to mental illness. At least one of her sons had autism.

A fourth child—Volk's eldest, teenaged son—wasn't living with the family at the time of their deaths and is still alive.

Johnson said police didn't find a suicide note in the home but came to their conclusion largely through an investigation of Volk's cell phone records, including her text messages. Using that electronic data, he said, police believe the mother killed her children and herself between the hours of 1:30 and 4:40 a.m.

He declined to say how many shots were fired at the home, nor if the children were in their beds at the time, saying only that they were found throughout the house and are believed to have died in their sleep. Neighbors apparently didn't hear the shots go off.

"There was loud music complaint called in earlier in the same neighborhood but that was not tied to the house," Johnson said. Aside from that, nothing was called in.

The grim nature of the incident resounded in the neighborhood and across the city. Schools in the Grand Forks district, in which all three Talmage children were students, offered grief counseling for pupils, and a Sunday vigil at the Volk home brought mourners looking to pay their respects.

For law enforcement, Johnson said "we've offered some time off to any of the employees who were substantially involved" to recover from the experience.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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