- Associated Press - Sunday, January 29, 2012

RICHMOND (AP) — Authorities said Sunday they are investigating the “tragic” and “suspicious deaths” of a 40-year-old man and two 3-year-old girls, all related, whose bodies were found this weekend in a modest, ranch-style home in a community near Richmond.

Sgt. Christ Whitley with the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department said investigators haven’t yet released a cause or motives in the deaths after the discovery of the bodies Saturday afternoon at the home in Mechanicsville, just northeast of Virginia’s capital.

The RichmondTimes-Dispatch reported that the dead were a father and his twin daughters. But Sgt. Whitley said he would not disclose exact family ties immediately, adding authorities were still collecting evidence and trying to determine the sequence of events leading up to the deaths.

Sgt. Whitley called it a tragic case and said preliminary information indicated no suspect was at large. He declined to say how the three were killed.

“This is truly a tragic incident, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased,” Sgt. Whitley said by telephone, reading from a statement.

He told the AP a citizen’s call brought sheriff’s officials to the home around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, but he declined to say where exactly the bodies were found or provide more specifics.

“Investigators will continue to work diligently in cooperation with the office of the chief medical examiner in an effort to bring this case to a final conclusion,” Sgt. Whitley’s statement said.

News photographs late Saturday showed three men lifting a metal gurney strapped with a dark body bag and carrying it down the cement steps of the front landing.

After nightfall, investigators could be seen clearly through the front door, which was left ajar with the home brightly lit. As they studied the interior of the home, bright camera flashes sporadically illuminated the home. At least two windows in the home were broken, according to the newspaper.

He declined to release their names early Sunday, saying their identities would only be released once relatives had been properly notified.

The Times-Dispatch said authorities reported that it wasn’t immediately clear if the mother of the children lived in the home. The newspaper said sheriff’s personnel were at the home for more than seven hours after they received an initial call. It said the bodies removed after 10 p.m., shortly after two unmarked black vans pulled into the gravel driveway.

After the sheriff’s vans left, deputies remained behind to secure the home, according to the newspaper.

The Richmond area was shaken recently by two killings that also touched off a frantic search for a missing toddler.

Two people were found slain in Richmond on Christmas Eve, including a 56-year-old woman from Mechanicsville, in a case that led to a wide search for a 2-year-old boy reported abducted near the scene and later found safe in the backseat of an SUV, according to police.

Authorities said the two who were killed weren’t related to the toddler, who was apparently in a vehicle stolen by the shooting suspect. The 2-year-old was reunited unharmed with his mother.