LOGAN — A man accused of forcing his way into his former sister-in-law's Texas home and killing her, her husband and four of their five children has a history of domestic violence problems from when he recently lived in northern Utah.
As part of his divorce with his former wife, Ronald Lee Haskell was ordered by a Utah judge to undergo a psychological evaluation and was not allowed to visit his children by himself until a therapist could determine whether he was "mentally and emotionally stable enough to care for the children," according to court records.
Haskell, 33, was a "recent resident" of the Logan area and had "several involvements" with Logan police and was incarcerated in the Cache County Jail in 2008, the Cache County Sheriff's Office confirmed Thursday.
Haskell lived on Hampton Place in Logan from July 2006 until November 2013. He was living in a basement apartment in the area of 400 North and 400 West in Logan from July 2013 until October 2013.
Ronald and Melanie Haskell had been building a home in nearby Smithfield, but Melanie Haskell tried to escape her abusive marriage before it was finished, neighbors said.
Thursday night, about 30 former neighbors who knew the Haskells when they lived in a townhouse in Logan held a candlelight vigil. Steven Kippen, who served as the Haskell's LDS bishop for three years, told those who gathered to keep both Melanie and Ron's families in their prayers and to try and be forgiving.
"I think it's important for us to let go of the bitterness. Hate is what drove Ron to do what he did. And I don't think we can excuse what he did by showing hatred as well. I think that would be hypocritical on our part," he said.
Ronald Haskell pleaded guilty to simple assault in a domestic violence-related incident in 2008, according to Utah state court records.
"Melanie Haskell stated her husband Ronald had (dragged) her by her hair and struck her in the head, and then did it again in front of the children," according to Logan police.
The abuse allegedly continued after that court case ended.
"She was tired of him beating her up and her children witnessing it. And when she saw her oldest child start to become violent, she chose to move into a (Community Abuse Prevention Service Agency) home for their safety," said Jolyn Young, who was one of Melanie Haskell's neighbors in Utah.
Logan police also reported that Ronald Haskell called officers in September of 2009.
"He stated his wife had left and left a note, which made him concerned for her safety. A short time later, he returned with his wife in the car and told officers he was taking her to the hospital. In August of 2013, Melanie reported a protective order violation. It was stated Ronald had made threats against her to his attorney. In October of 2013, Melanie reported a possible protective order violation because Ronald had shown up at one of the children’s elementary schools. This protective order was actually served on him the day of the complaint. Neither protective order violations were prosecuted," police said in a prepared statement.
The Haskells were married in California in 2002. They separated in June of 2013. They have four children together between the ages of 3 and 11.
In July of 2013, Melanie Haskell filed for a protective order against her husband in 1st District Court in Logan. In August she filed for divorce. In October, both parties agreed to drop the protective order and enter into a "mutual restraining order."
"The parties agree that Ms. Haskell will have primary physical custody with the parties having joint legal custody," court records state.
Ronald Haskell was also ordered, as part of the settlement, to only have supervised visitations with his children until his therapist could determine that he was no longer a "threat" to them.
"Until respondent receives a psychological evaluation and provides documentation from his evaluator that he is mentally and emotionally stable enough to care for the children on his own, respondent’s parent time shall be supervised," the Haskells' divorce decree states.
As part of the mutual restraining order, the court also ordered: "Each party shall not commit, try to commit or threaten to commit any form of violence against the other. This includes stalking, harassing, threatening, physically hurting or causing any other form of abuse."
At Thursday's vigil, Kippen said he tried to help the Haskells with counseling as well as help them seek professional counseling. He was aware of their marital problems, and ultimately encouraged Ronald Haskell to move to California to be with family members there.
"We convinced him that's where he needed to be," Kippen said. "It didn't work out for the marriage and it was best for Ron to be able to regroup and get support from his family in California. And Melanie needed the same thing, which is why she went to be with her family in Texas."
But Haskell's abuse didn't stop.
San Diego abuse
Most recently, Haskell's sister, Chandra Haskell, filed for a protective order against her brother as well as a report of domestic abuse after Ronald Haskell allegedly attacked her and their mother at their home in San Diego County.
Haskell was living at his mother's home in November when Chandra Haskell said she heard her brother yelling at her mother.
"He then turned his anger on me. He grabbed me by my throat and threw me to the ground. When my mother tried to stop him, he grabbed her and threw her to the ground," Chandra Haskell said in her report to police.
Haskell said her brother elbowed her in the throat and punched her in the arm. She said Ronald Haskell was "in the middle of a messy divorce and his wife is accusing him of domestic violence," according to the police report.
Chandra Haskell asked for a restraining order against her brother and for him to be removed from her house because she feared he would harm her again.
Ronald Haskell has been charged with multiple counts of capital murder in the Spring, Texas, killings. He also is accused of critically injuring his former niece, 15, in the shooting rampage.
When he arrived at the door of the home of Stephen and Katie Stay — dressed as a FedEx driver — Haskell allegedly demanded to know where he could find his ex-wife. Police said he held the children at gunpoint until their parents returned home. The parents were then shot and killed in addition to two boys, ages 4 and 14, and two girls, ages 7 and 9.
Roger Lyon, Katie Stay's father who also lives in Texas just a few miles from his daughter, released a prepared statement late Thursday.
"Stephen and Katie Stay and their beautiful children were an amazing and resilient family. They lived to help others, both at church and in their neighborhood," he said of the Mormon family. "We love them beyond words.
"Cassidy Stay, 15, who survived the attack, is expected to make a full recovery. We are grateful for this miracle. We are in awe of her bravery and courage in calling 911, an act that is likely to have saved all of our lives. She is our hero. More information will be forthcoming in the days ahead about her heroics, but right now we want to concentrate on getting her well.
"We are shocked and devastated by this tragedy that has taken these precious souls away from us," Lyon said.
Stephen Stay, 39, and Katie Stay, 33, also have relatives who still live in Utah. Attempts to contact them Thursday were unsuccessful.
Texas neighbor Verena Beckstrand choked back tears Thursday as she described to the Associated Press how Katie Stay went to Utah last fall to help her sister escape her relationship with Haskell and make a fresh start in Texas.
"Katie's a spitfire. She has energy to stand up for what she believes is right and true," Beckstrand, 42, said.
Brandi, who declined to give her last name, is close to Melanie Haskell and also attended Thursday's vigil in Logan.
"Melanie and her family were an amazing family," she said. "This is the least we could do to show our love from the state of Utah and we love her here in Logan."
Brandi said she talked to Melanie on the phone Wednesday before the killings. She said Melanie and her family have "started a new life" and are happy. She said there were no warning signs leading up to Wednesday's tragic events.
"Melanie is an incredible mother, incredible friend, incredible neighbor. They were wonderful members of our community," added Heather Weese, another friend who attended Thursday's vigil. "I'm 100 percent shocked over this."
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