A St. Louis-area man shot his girlfriend, her two young children and her mother in the home they all shared, authorities said Saturday. He exchanged gunfire with officers as he fled and was captured several hours later in a convenience store, covered in blood and wounded.

Prosecutors say a St. Louis-area man charged with fatally shooting his girlfriend, her two young children and her mother could face the death penalty once the investigation is complete.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that authorities are still investigating what led to the shooting late Friday. Richard Darren Emery of St. Charles, Missouri, is facing 15 charges, including first-degree murder.

Emery, who often goes by his middle name Darren, exchanged gunfire with officers as he fled. He was captured several hours later – wounded and covered in blood.

St. Charles is a city of about 70,000 residents on the Missouri River northwest of St. Louis.

A candlelight vigil was planned Sunday evening to honor the victims: 61-year-old Jane Moeckel, 39-year-old Kate Kasten, eight-year-old Zoe Kasten and 10-year-old Jonathan Kasten.

The motive for the slayings are still unclear.

Calling the incident ‘horrific’, CBS News reported St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar said during a news conference: ‘What can possess someone to take the life of a child, is beyond on me – and we may never know.

‘This one, in particular, was the worst example of a domestic violence case. Anytime you have a domestic violence case you worry about the safety of the victim, and this would be your worst nightmare.’

Emery could face 30 years to life in prison for his crimes which include first-degree murder.

‘It’s premature for us to make any sort of pronouncement about that right now, but I can tell you this thing looks and smells like a death penalty case,’ Lohmar added.

The children’s father Kory Kasten passed away after losing his battle with cancer last summer.

His aunt Diane Kasten posted a tribute to the family on Saturday.

‘My beloved nephew, Kory, with the family he loved so much,’ she posted on Facebook alongside a snap of her late family. ‘All stolen from us – Kory by cancer, and now Kate, Jonathan, and Zoe, by a man with a gun. I will miss you all every day for the rest of my life. There are no words.’

The three victims were found dead inside the home in the suburb of about 70,000 people on the Missouri River northwest of St Louis.

Kate Kasten was taken to a local hospital and died there, according to St Charles Police Lt Tom Wilkison.

Police stopped Emery as he tried to drive away from the home, and a short gun battle followed.

Officials said police received a call just before midnight Friday about a shooting at the house where Emery and the victims lived. Lohmar said officers later found three victims dead of gunshot wounds in one bedroom. They were Zoe Kasten, 8; her brother, Jonathan Kasten, 10; and their grandmother, Jane Moeckel, 61.

Officers found the fourth victim, a 39-year-old woman, in the home’s master bedroom, suffering from gunshot wounds but still alive, Lohmar said. She was taken to an area hospital, where she died.

Authorities did not name the fourth victim but described her as the children’s mother, the daughter of the older woman and Emery’s girlfriend.

The initial call came to police came from inside the house, and Lohmar said investigators believe Moeckel made it.

“During that phone call, the 911 operator could hear gunshots in the background,” St. Charles Police Lt. Tom Wilkison said.

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Lohmar said Emery attempted to flee in his pickup and was stopped by a police car. He and the officers exchanged shots, and he fled on foot.

Authorities described his attempt to steal another vehicle as a carjacking and said he stabbed its female driver seven times. They said her injuries were not life-threatening.

The area is wooded, and Lohmar said Emery was able to elude police in the dark. But when he sought shelter in the bathroom of the convenience store a few miles away, an employee contacted police, Lohmar said.

Each of the charges against Emery carries a possible penalty of 30 years to life in prison, Lohmar said, adding that more charges are possible and seeking the death penalty is an option under Missouri law.

“It’s premature for us to make any sort of pronouncement about that right now, but I can tell you this thing looks and smells like a death penalty case,” he said.

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