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Police & Fire

Sheriff's report depicts romance turned deadly

Authorities describe abuse, indiscretion before slayings

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    Two-year-old Isaac Atwater

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    Alan Atwater called authorities April 16 and told them he killed his wife, Dawn, and their three children.


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    Dawn Atwater


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    Alan Atwater and his wife Dawn.

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    One-year-old Brady Atwater

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  • Ashley-Atwater

    Four-year-old Ashley Atwater.

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Alan Atwater called authorities April 16 and told them he killed his wife, Dawn, and their three children.


PORT CLINTON -- It's a chilling tale, one of a romance turned deadly.

An abusive man who pledges to change, who says he loves his wife and children. A woman who wants out, who has fallen for a younger man.

Alan Atwater, 31, was desperately in love with his wife, Dawn. The day before he killed her and their three children, he told his aunt he would do anything to keep the family together, according to a 56-page report from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office that was released Tuesday.

Dawn, 30, had fallen out of love with her husband; she was developing feelings for her 20-year-old lover, whom Atwater had asked to sleep with his wife while he was away on business.

Until Atwater called 911 at 12:11 a.m. on April 16, calmly saying he killed his wife and their three children -- Ashley, 4, Isaac, 2, and Brady, 1 -- and was ready to take his own life, sheriff's deputies were never called to the home at 964 Leutz Rd.

Friends and family who knew the couple told investigators that Alan and Dawn were unhappy.

Atwater was controlling -- verbally and emotionally abusive, his wife's friends told police. Mrs. Atwater for at least one year had told friends she wanted to leave her husband.

"Debby I need her so bad. I love her I'm such an idiot 4 thinkin anything is more important than her," Atwater wrote in an April 15 text message to his aunt Debby Atwater. Debby Atwater told police she and the killer had talked and exchanged text messages from about 7:45 a.m. until 7 p.m.

"There is nothing that is as important to me as her and I'm goin to prove it to her. The farmin the overtime the outages everything r last she and the kids r 1st and always will be 1st," Atwater wrote.


Dawn Atwater


Mrs. Atwater was his "drive 2 get thru day by day."

But sometime in the five years the couple were married, the wife had a change of heart.

"She doesn't have feelings for u anymore," the aunt texted Atwater after his wife had confided in her. "I told her that she needs to wait and let those feelings come back she had them once I think u need 2 make her love u again like she did be4 its gona btake time."

Atwater asked his aunt for the phone number of a local florist.

There were signs of trouble along the way, but family members have said they thought the problems were minor. They never expected this.

It is unclear when the relationship began to fall apart, but a photo uploaded to Mrs. Atwater's Facebook profile shows the couple on their wedding day, Nov. 4, 2005. When a friend asked why the couple were not smiling, she commented that they had fought earlier.


Four-year-old Ashley Atwater.

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On April 11, a week before the family was killed, Atwater was visiting with friends, laughing and joking. The conversation shifted when someone asked what the men would do if their spouses cheated on them.

"Alan said if his wife cheated on him, he would kill her," investigators recalled Frank Wheeler saying.

Robert Linnebur, who was also there, told authorities he did not hear Atwater say that.

Colette Yontz, who met Mrs. Atwater in 2007 while the two worked at Stein Hospice, told investigators she last saw Dawn in summer, 2010.

"She said that she had wanted out, and he -- the conversation that Dawn and I had was if she left him, he would kill himself and he would kill her," Ms. Yontz told authorities.

Another woman, Jennifer Laughlin, who once worked at Stein Hospice with Mrs. Atwater, saw Atwater between 3 and 4 p.m. on April 15 when he went through the drive-through where she works.


Two-year-old Isaac Atwater

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"He said, 'Yeah, I've been gone for seven weeks, and can you believe I come home, and Dawn, my wife, tells me that she wants a separation?' " she told investigators.

Ms. Yontz also told investigators the couple had financial trouble, despite Alan's full-time position at Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, where he worked in the maintenance department as an instrument and control technician.

"He's got an older daughter [Mandie] and he was paying child support, and -- you know, they just were -- they were having some major financial issues. I mean they were living check to check to check," Ms. Yontz told investigators.

Mandie, 12, was not at the Leutz Road home on April 16. She was staying with her mother somewhere in Lucas County, authorities have said.

Mrs. Atwater worked at Stein Hospice for about four years, but friends told investigators that her husband made her quit last year to be a stay-at-home mother.

"He was very controlling," Ms. Yontz told investigators. "Very on an emotional level verbally very, very controlling. She quit her job at Stein Hospice -- I mean after being there like three or four years ... She wanted to work."

The man Mrs. Atwater slept with told investigators that the couple ''had mentioned instances in which Mr. Atwater pushed Dawn up against a wall and choked her."

Before and during the marriage, friends told investigators that Atwater had other sexual relationships, but stopped the affairs.


One-year-old Brady Atwater

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"[Mrs. Atwater] had caught him cheating on her through text messages that she had found on his phone. Phone calls. She even talked to the one girl that he had been seeing for quite some time. He actually was seeing her before they got married and then during their marriage, and supposedly he ended it with her about two years ago ... but he had been cheating on and off throughout their marriage, and she said that she wanted out," Ms. Yontz told investigators.

Atwater spent several weeks out of state, working in another nuclear power plant. About one month before the killings, he sent his 20-year-old friend a text message stating "he wanted Dawn to be happy and that he couldn't make her happy at the moment and that he wanted me to go over and sleep with her," the man told investigators.

The man, who worked on the Atwaters' farm for two years and describes Atwater as a father figure, slept with the wife once while Atwater was gone.

The two apparently made plans to meet again on April 10 after Atwater had returned home. On April 9, during Ashley's fourth birthday party, Atwater sent the man a text saying he didn't want the man to sleep with his wife again.

"[Atwater said] that Dawn was starting to get feelings for me and that ... no more sex and that. I was like 'All right. No problem with that,'" the man told investigators.

Later, Mrs. Atwater told the man the killer had changed his mind. They were OK to meet Sunday.

Sunday night the man went back to the Atwaters' house -- during the day he helped Atwater work on farming equipment -- and, while Atwater was sitting downstairs, his wife and the man had sex.

Atwater was never abusive toward the children, the 20-year-old man told investigators.

"He'd always change diapers and that ... We'd always go in and eat or something, he always would play with them at the table -- little cars, Hot Wheels, whatever," the man said. The man also said that, on April 12, Atwater said "he 'did not want anyone else raising his kids.' "

In the sheriff's report, buried among the stories of a troubled marriage and love affairs, are smaller heartbreaking details.

At the time of her death, Ashley was wearing pink and white pajamas. Her ankle socks were orange and white.

On April 15 Atwater took at least one of the kids to Tiffin to pick up a chair the family was having redone. Family members who spoke to Atwater that night said he seemed fine, nothing was out of the ordinary.

At 11:47 p.m., about 30 minutes before Atwater called 911, the 20-year-old man's phone showed Mrs. Atwater was calling.

He didn't answer -- he was on the phone with his wife. He didn't listen to the message until after 3 p.m. April 16. A woman could be heard crying and shouting "No!" and "Please!"

"The female's crying seemed to become more intense and then the message ended," an investigator noted.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: or 419-724-6054.

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