Mother stabbed to death 2 daughters, police say

By Mitch Hotts
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

A Macomb Township woman is in police custody today after she was accused of the gruesome killing of her two daughters and an assortment of pets, according to the Macomb County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff's investigators were still at the home late Sunday in the Hometown Macomb manufactured housing complex on M-59 east of Romeo Plank, where police said they recovered several large bloody knives used in the attack.

"It's an extremely horrific scene," said Macomb Sheriff Mark Hackel.

The sheriff's office plans to file homicide charges against the woman for the stabbing deaths of her two daughters, ages 5 and 9. Also killed in the attack were three dogs and a pet mouse that was housed in a cage.

Police said the woman's sister called 911 about 6:30 p.m. after entering the home and discovering the suspect sitting alone amid the carnage. The Macomb County Medical Examiner's Office determined the children had been dead "for some time."

Hackel said while there was no real motive for the killings, police were confident they know the circumstances that resulted in the incident. It appears the woman sat in the home with her daughters' bodies for most of Sunday, police said.

The suspect, identified by neighbors as Jennifer Kukla, believed to be in her mid-30s, suffered a minor stab wound to her arm, which police said was self inflicted. She was taken to an area hospital for treatment before being transported to the Macomb County Jail.

Neighbors who live on Chevalier near the woman said she works at a McDonald's restaurant on 23 Mile Road. Several area homeowners said they observed a maroon car in the driveway of the woman's lot and the door to her home had been left open much of the night.

"I feel so bad for all of them," said Penny Shovan, who lives near the scene. "I didn't know her that well, but I would never have dreamed she would do something like that to those girls."

Hackel said the suspect apparently called her sister and told her to come over because she had harmed her daughters. The girls were found lying next to each other in a rear bedroom.

It was not immediately known who the father of the girls is, according to police.

Neighbors said the 9-year-old girl attends nearby Ojibwa Elementary School in the Chippewa Valley Schools district.

Diane Blain, communications director for Chippewa Valley, said the district's crisis team will be available today for any students who knew the slain girls. "We'll have people available to help any of our children who may feel the need to ask questions or talk about this," Blain said.

A 2005 study by the Journal of American Academy for Psychiatry and the Law found a high degree of mental illness and suicidal tendencies for women accused of filicide, the term for parents who kill their children.

The majority of cases in the study were identified as psychotic altruistic, where the parents believe they were relieving the suffering of their children.

Donations pour in for girls' funerals

■ Jailed father of one hopes to attend services

By Chad Halcom
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

A special fund to pay for the funerals of two children allegedly killed by their mother Sunday has received more than half the money needed, officials said Tuesday.

"The response is overwhelming. People are giving small or large contributions, some funeral homes and other businesses have come forward offering their services or to give a (burial) plot or something at a low cost," said Vince Viviano, a loan officer at Warren Bank handling the Alexandria and Ashley Memorial Fund. "It brings a tear to the eye."

Jennifer Kukla is accused of stabbing to death her two daughters, as well as three pet dogs and a mouse.

Macomb County Staff Photo by David N. Posavetz

Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel, who helped establish the fund, added some seed money after relatives of the children spoke to him Monday at the arraignment of Jennifer Anne Kukla, 30, their mother.

"There was a discussion of whether we knew how to set something up because the family had no money for a funeral. It kind of broke your heart," Hackel explained.

"So I made contact with (the bank), and since then there have been people giving $5 or $10, or people coming with a payment of $500 to my office and we've taken it there. We've even had clergy volunteering to help us with performing the services." So far, Hackel and Warren Bank management officials said, the fund has amassed roughly $5,000 just in its first day. Officials were gauging that funeral expenses for the children might run anywhere between $6,500 and $15,000 when establishing the fund.

"It's only fitting, for two little princesses that didn't get much dignity in how they died, to get something like this," Hackel said. "If there's any money left over from the donations, after the funeral, we're hoping to establish some kind of playscape or dedicate playground equipment in that area of the community, with an engraving in memorial to them."

Hackel said his department is also starting some group support initiatives among his deputies if any need help weathering the trauma of the gruesome crime scene on Chevalier Drive this past Sunday, and also hopes to attend the Saturday funeral.

Jeffrey Brownlow, father of the slain Ashley Kukla, who is currently jailed for operating a vehicle while impaired and failure to pay child support, is hoping to attend the funeral.

Brownlow's ex-wife, Nancy Lenglet Galen, and her current husband, attorney James Galen of Clinton Township, said Tuesday they had been in contact with Brownlow and the Michigan Department of Corrections about possibly arranging a furlough from prison for him to attend the memorial for his daughter. "No one in his family was told by the police about this. His own mother had to find out about it in the news reports, and that's (Ashley's) grandmother," explained Mrs. Galen.

Mr. Galen said he will act as Brownlow's attorney in that request, and that it is the least officials can do for Brownlow after failing to notify his relatives.

Nancy Lenglet Galen was married to Brownlow until 2000, when she alleges he began an affair with Ms. Kukla and caused her to initiate divorce proceedings. Police contend neither Brownlow nor Paul Hein of Warren, Alexandria's mother, had much to do with the children in recent years.

Investigators believe sometime around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Kukla took four large kitchen knives in her home and dealt multiple stab wounds to the neck region of both girls as well as three family dogs found stacked in a pile, and a tiny white mouse kept in a cage.

Police only became aware of the crime some 11 hours later, around 6 p.m. Sunday, when sister Lauren Kukla stopped by the home and found Jennifer Kukla emerging from the house, claiming she'd harmed the children.

Russ Madan of the Michigan Department of Corrections confirmed his department had received inquiries about transporting Brownlow to the memorial visitation, but said very strict rules govern those furloughs, including that family members must pay the costs. No formal proceeding is yet scheduled on that request.

Also hoping to attend services for the children' this weekend is Steven Trombley, 19, a former employee at the McDonald's location at 23 Mile Road and Romeo plank where Kukla had been an associate manager until recently. Trombley said he had last seen Kukla almost two weeks ago, but she still seemed in good spirits then.

"I'd worked midnight shifts with her sometimes, and she would sometimes offer me a ride home if I didn't have one, and she was always pretty nice," he said. "The children would come with her to work sometimes until she could get a sister to pick them up, and she'd get them some ice cream or something while they waited. They were good kids."

Kukla remained under special observation "based on something she'd said to us," in a booking section of the Macomb County Jail on Tuesday, while she awaits a preliminary hearing next week on two counts of first-degree murder, said Sheriff's Capt. Anthony Wickersham. But Wickersham declined to call it a "suicide watch" and said the special observation is just a temporary measure, until she can be assigned a more permanent housing unit in the jail.

Accounts differ widely on what might have driven Kukla to the alleged crimes. Police have said she reported "hearing voices" telling her to harm the children, while family members and others noted her family has a history of mental illness and a neighbor had been threatening to call Child Protective Services about the conditions at the family's mobile home.

But Angelo Nicholas, director of the Macomb County division of the Department of Human Services, which oversees CPS, said a neighbor's call about neglect wouldn't have necessarily meant a mother would have her children taken away.

"An investigator would find if there's evidence to substantiate an allegation of neglect, or if there's an environment that's dangerous for them, then we would remove the children temporarily and obtain wardship in the courts," he explained. "But we do that very reluctantly and the parent would have a hearing process ... the goal is almost always to reunite the families."

Nicholas declined to comment specifically on the Kukla case or say whether any CPS investigation was under way.

Bob Wujek, co-owner of Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons in Shelby Township, said the memorial services for Ashley and Alexandria are a result of several generous efforts and offers.

"We've never had so many kind and generous people offering all kinds of assistance," Wujek said. "For example, I can't tell you how many flower shops have called to offer their services for the family"

The funeral home gave a 50 percent discount on its services to the family, while Charlie's Casket Warehouse in Detroit donated two caskets for the children.

The girls will be cremated with Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township picking up the costs. Wujek said the family has decided to host the visitation for the girls in a single room.

"Unfortunately, in the funeral industry we've dealt in the past with young people dying in accidents and it's very hard on everyone involved," Wujek said. "In this case, I think everyone's hearts went out to the family when we heard what happened."

Contributions are still being accepted to help the family with expenses at the Alexandria and Ashley Memorial Fund, c/o Warren Bank, 38880 Garfield Road, Clinton Township, MI 48038.

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Wujek-Calcaterra & Sons location near 25 Mile Road and Van Dyke. Visitation is from 3-9 p.m. Friday at the funeral home.

- Staff Writer Mitch Notts contributed to this report.

Jailed dad will miss slain girl's funeral

■ Family can't afford fees for his release.

By Chad Halcom
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

Residents from all over southeast Michigan have sent in money to pay for two slain Macomb Township girls' funeral, which their mother and one of the girl's father will miss because of incarceration, officials said.

Efforts were under way this week to obtain a prison furlough for Jeffrey Brownlow, 44, father of the younger homicide victim, Ashley Kukla. But an attorney for the family confirmed Thursday that the Brownlow family could not afford the fees assessed by the state for such a furlough.

"Jeffrey's feeling is since he wasn't involved enough in his daughter's life lately, he didn't feel right making his family pay all those costs to obtain a short visit to the (funeral home)," said attorney James Galen. "So he will choose to grieve privately this weekend, from prison."

Ashley Kukla, 5, and her half sister, Alexandra Marie Kukla, 8, died Sunday morning of multiple stab wounds to the neck area along with three family dogs and a pet mouse at the Kukla family's Macomb Township mobile home.

Their mother, Jennifer Anne Kukla, remains at the Macomb County Jail without bond awaiting a preliminary exam next week on two counts of first-degree murder. Brownlow is serving 18 months to four years in prison for failure to pay child support conviction involving another child.

Galen said several of Brownlow's relatives will attend the services for the children this weekend. The Michigan Department of Corrections, which allows furloughs if a prison warden agrees and personnel are available for the transportation, charges the family for the expense and had estimated the Brownlow furlough would cost nearly $900, said Corrections spokesman Leo Lalonde.

Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel said this week he was unaware of any requests to grant a furlough for Kukla herself from the county jail. He said he would not consider such a furlough without a court order compelling him to do so, he added.

Meanwhile, public sympathy and financial support continues to pour in for a fund created in memory of the two girls. Vince Viviano of the Warren Bank office in Clinton Township estimated on Thursday that roughly $10,000 had come in through donations large and small to the Alexandra and Ashley Memorial Fund. "There have been cards, and envelopes, and gifts. I'd say 30 or 40 yesterday, and maybe 50 today," he explained. "We'll continue it probably about another two weeks or so. If there's any left over after the funeral costs, there's discussion of a playscape in memorial at either Ojibwa (Elementary) or the mobile home park where they lived."

Viviano and others said collective contributions are also corning in from the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce, a staff collection at the Macomb County Prosecutor's office, and the faculty of Chippewa Valley Schools where the girls were students. Officials began the fund earlier this week since the family has no money for funeral expenses.

"There's been an effort to raise some of those funds among the teachers and staff," said Chippewa Valley Schools spokeswoman Diane Blain. "Our school counselors and social workers have been making themselves available and ready to help, working with classes and students who might be having a hard time."

Police and prosecutors claim Kukla, 30, a single mother, remained in the house some 11 hours after the stabbings until a sister of the defendant stopped by the home to check on her welfare. The sister found an open door and Kukla emerging from inside to tell her she'd harmed the girls, prompting a call to 911 around 6 p.m.

If convicted as charged, Kukla would face mandatory life in prison without parole.

Blain said Thursday that school officials sent out a letter to parents of children at Ojibwa and Cherokee elementary schools this week after a weather-related school closure had ended and classes resumed.

The girls attended Ojibwa—Alexandra in second grade and Ashley in kindergarten — but the neighborhood where they lived also includes many Cherokee students. A parents meeting with school officials and Gary Burnett, director of the Macomb County Crisis Center, is planned Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Ojibwa.

Accounts differ widely on what might have driven Kukla to the alleged crimes. Police have said she reported "hearing voices" telling her to harm the chilidren, while family members and others noted her family has a history of mental illness. They also said a neighbor had been threatening to call Child Protective Services about the conditions at the mobile home, which included a lack of running water.

Kukla had briefly lost custody of her children four years ago to CPS in an environmental neglect case because of the living conditions at her home, officials have said. She soon met the requirements to be reunited with her children.

Getting financial support for the children may have been a tougher matter. Paul Hein, father of Kukla's older child, was jailed in December for non-payment of child support.

But records indicate Hein, who went into custody Dec. 18, obtained his release two days later by furnishing $2,250. The payment was supposed to be received by the Macomb County Friend of the Court and processed through the Disbursement Unit in Lansing, and forwarded to the Kukla family — but officials could not confirm that a payment had been sent.