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Elmhurst couple in murder-suicide were doting parents: neighbors

Four family members were found shot death Saturday evening their home west suburban Elmhurst police said. | Brian Slodysko/Sun-Times

Four family members were found shot to death Saturday evening in their home in west suburban Elmhurst, police said. | Brian Slodysko/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 2, 2014 9:58AM

A day after an elderly couple and their developmentally disabled adult children were found shot to death inside their Elmhurst home, four white crosses bearing their names lined a fence outside the well-maintained house on a quiet side street.

DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen said preliminary results from autospies Sunday showed they died in a murder-suicide. He said Francis Stack, 82, fatally shot his wife, Joan, 82, and their children — Francis Jr., 48, and Mary, 57, — before turning the gun on himself. All four were shot in the head.

Elmhurst Police went to the home about 6:45 p.m. Saturday for a well-being check after learning that Francis Stack told a friend that he was going to shoot his family and himself, police said in a news release Sunday evening.

Two doors down from the Stack home, neighbors on Sunday commiserated on the back porch of Peggy Babyar, a retired school teacher who had known the family for over 30 years.

Babyar reiterated what many other neighbors said: Francis “Frank” Stack, wrestling with his own mortality, was worried about what would happen to his kids.

“This was an act of love. There’s no question on any of our minds that he just loved his family,” Babyar said, choking back tears. “As horrible as it sounds, it came out of love for his kids.”

Throughout the afternoon Sunday, walkers and bicyclists looked at the Stack house as they passed. Cars slowed as they drove by.

A family pulled up in an SUV. They got out and placed flowers at the base of the crosses. The father placed the Stacks’ unclaimed newspaper on the front porch.

Longtime neighbors say Joan and Frank Stack were loving and doting parents who cared for their developmentally challenged adult children well into their own old age.

The children primarily lived in assisted care facilities but frequently visited on the weekends. Neighbors said Frank Stack still cut his son’s hair.

“They were good people. They were so good to those kids,” said Jane Bock, 89, who had known the Stack family since they moved to the neighborhood in the 1950s. “That was their life. It was built around those kids.”

Joan Stack recently began receiving home hospice care and Frank Stack had been having difficulty getting around, relying on a cane, Bock said. And the fate that would befall their son and daughter had been weighing on Frank Stack, Bock said.

“Anybody reading the news is going to think, ‘What kind of man is that?’ That’s the first thing anybody thinks,” Bock said. “If you were in their shoes, would you do the same thing possibly?”

For decades, Francis Jr. and Mary Stack received services, including housing, from the Ray Graham Association for the Handicapped, said Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of the organization.

“The family was very involved and continued to be very involved. They were a very dedicated family to their children,” Zoeller said. “We are all very shocked and very sad about what has transpired.”

Zoeller said she could not speak in-depth about the specifics of the care that the Stack siblings received from the organization. But, in general, she said people with disabilities such as theirs qualify for government assistance that helps pay for their care.

She said both siblings lived in Ray Graham Association housing but were able to visit the family’s Elmhurst home.

Al Watson, another longtime neighbor, said the Stacks had two other daughters who are not developmentally disabled. Those daughters used to baby-sit his children, who are now in their 50s, he said.

In an emailed statement on Monday, a representative of the family wrote: “Frank and Joan Stack will be remembered for an unwavering commitment to and love for their family and will be deeply missed by their 2 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 5 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

“While they led very difficult lives that were increasingly difficult over the last several years, their family will cherish many years of wonderful memories with Frank, Joan, Mary and Frank Jr. Their family appreciates the outpouring of love and support from extended family, committed caretakers, neighbors, the Ray Graham Association, and greater Elmhurst community in recent days,” the statement said.

Watson said the Stacks were great neighbors and often the first to greet new people who moved to the block.

“If you had a problem you’d come over and talk to him and he could help you with anything — especially if it was electrical,” said Watson, who noted Frank Stack had worked for ComEd. “It’s a very difficult situation.”

Bock said she would be dead if it weren’t for Frank Stack. In 2004, she had an adverse reaction to a medication and slipped into a coma. Her out-of-state daughters couldn’t reach her by phone and called Frank Stack, who had a key to her home, she said.

He found her unresponsive on her couch and had Joan Stack call an ambulance, she said. If he hadn’t checked on her, she would have died within hours, Bock said.

“They were good people. It’s terrible what happened, but they had a hard life,” Bock said.

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