SANTA CLARA — Poems and paper flowers dotted the halls of the school where Elsa Schiefer was known as a bright, athletic, cheerful girl.
The 12-year-old straight-A student and her family were killed in what police are calling a murder-suicide, and all day Friday, students at Hyde Middle School in Cupertino questioned how their schoolmate could have met with such a tragic ending.
Police were seeking the answer to the same question.
“We’re still trying to piece together the puzzle,” said Santa Clara police Detective Kurt Clarke.
Elsa, and her 5-year-old sister, Jessica, were found dead in their Santa Clara home Thursday, along with their mother, Tae Young Schiefer, 42, and her estranged husband, Ulrich “Uli” Schiefer, 38.
Police say the woman shot and killed the others before turning the .38-caliber revolver on herself. The woman, a stay-at-home mom, had locally purchased and registered the gun last month.
The family was found dead Thursday afternoon after Ulrich Schiefer’s co-worker stopped by to check on him because he hadn’t shown up at work for several days.
Inside, police later found Elsa in the family room and Ulrich Schiefer in the foyer downstairs. In an upstairs bedroom, Jessica was on the bed, wrapped in a blanket next to her mother with the gun nearby.
It appeared that Ulrich Schiefer was trying to escape, police said: he was found with multiple gunshot wounds by the front door.
Police believe the family died Monday.
A motive has not been determined, but police believe the couple’s marital problems are a key factor. The two had been separated for the past two months, and Ulrich Schiefer was living in Sunnyvale and had custody of Jessica.
Police did not know why Ulrich Schiefer was at the Santa Clara home on Monday, the day witnesses last saw the couple alive.
Neither neighbors nor school officials said they saw prior evidence of domestic violence.
The younger daughter and her mother had just dropped off flowers and a homemade drawing for their elderly neighbors across the street on Easter Sunday. The family attended block parties and neighborhood watch meetings.
“Elsa was a delightful child, and there was no sign that she came from a troubled home,” said Steve Parker, the principal at Hyde school. “This is very bizarre.”
As recent as last winter, the family had sent out “Seasons Greeting” cards, bearing a picture of the smiling family of four in front of a Christmas tree.
Police also say they have not found reports of violence but are still looking.
Family Court records do not show that either parent had filed a restraining order — a sign sometimes of brewing trouble.
The case is also unusual because the apparent perpetrator was a woman, police said.
“The police always assume it’s the male, but this case shows it could be the woman as well,” Clarke said.
The couple met in Germany and married eight years ago, police said.
Tae Young Schiefer was Korean, and Ulrich Schiefer, German. Elsa was Tae Young Schiefer’s daughter from a previous marriage, and police are trying to locate the girl’s father in Korea, along with other relatives living there.
Small “Post-It” notes and loose papers with writings in German and Korean were found in the family home, and police are trying to determine if any of them will offer clues as to what happened.
Ulrich Schiefer was an engineer at Remedy Corp. in Mountain View, a business software company that was recently acquired by Peregrine Systems.
“We’re all very much saddened by the tragedy,” said Tamara Doney, a spokeswoman for Peregrine.