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A Connecticut woman is suspected of strangling her three children to death, including one as young as five years old, before authorities found her dead, hanging inside a shed outside her suburban home, police announced Thursday.
The City of Danbury Police Department confirmed the identities of the deceased as Sonja Loja, 36, and her three children: Junior Panjon, 12, Joselyn Panjon, 10, and Jonael Panjon, 5.
“The children all appear to have died by strangulation, and the mother’s suspected cause of death is asphyxia by hanging,” Danbury Police Department’s Detective Captain Mark Williams said in a statement. “Pending an official autopsy, preliminary findings indicate that Ms. Loja strangled her three children before killing herself.”
“However, this is still an active investigation,” Williams added.
Authorities said the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy of the deceased on Thursday morning.
Fox 5 New York reported that authorities received a call around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday from a distressed man who notified the police of the incident on Whaley Street. When officers arrived, they discovered the three children dead inside the home and later found Loja’s lifeless body hanging in an outside shed.
Authorities learned that Loja and her three boys lived in the suburban home shared with two other adults, neither of whom were at the residence when police arrived shortly after receiving the call.
The deceased’s extended family members and the two other adults have been contacted and advised of the incident.
Two of the deceased children were students at Danbury Public Schools, according to Superintendent Kevin Walston.
“Our thoughts are with everyone in the Danbury community impacted by this tragedy and we are grieving with you,” Walston said according to Newstimes. “Losing children to violence is becoming far too common in our nation and events such as these shine a light on the challenges communities face, specifically around mental health, that leave so many people vulnerable.”
Maggie Adair, director of community relations for the state Office of Early Childhood, said authorities cited Loja twice for operating an illegal day care out of the Danbury home, Newstimes reports.
Adair said authorities believed Loja stopped running the day care at the end of June.
Neighbors of the deceased told local media that the family looked like a happy household.
“The kids were really good kids,” Ralph Baugher told News 8. “They were really friendly kids. … When you drive by, they would wave and say, ‘How are you doing?’ Wave back to them, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ They were always happy kids. Always playing in the yard, having fun, laughing all the time.”
Zak, a neighbor, appeared to be in shock over the tragedy.
“It was pretty said,” he said. “I couldn’t even believe it because every day I would see them walking to the bus stop — I think they went to summer school or something as I was [still] seeing them go the bus stop.”
Atkin Guishard, a neighbor, said the scene left him feeling distraught.
“I even had to call my church and tell them,” Guishard said. “We had a prayer session.”
Danbury officials have coordinated efforts with authorities, partnering health agencies, and local public schools to provide services for the family and friends of the deceased.
Detective Captain Williams said services have also been extended to the first responders, as the scene was “an emotionally damaging incident.”
Authorities called Wednesday’s tragedy an isolated incident from the beginning, and there was no threat to the public at the time. Police have said the incident is still an active investigation.
Mayor Dean Esposito expressed the city’s thoughts and prayers for the family and friends of the victims in the police department’s statement.
“A truly horrible event occurred in our city yesterday, and we mourn the tragic loss of life,” Esposito said. “Our community grieves for the innocent lives taken from us.”
“We will get through this together,” the mayor added.