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9-Year-Old Girl Praised After Massacre

May 21, 1992

PUKEKOHE, New Zealand (AP) _ Nine-year-old Linda Schlaepfer was in bed when she heard the first shot inside her house. Her grandfather was systematically killing their family, and he soon came looking for her.

″My granddad ... he’s shot my brother,″ the girl told Constable Jeff Stuck, a police operator, by telephone. ″And I think he’s coming to shoot ... he’s going to shoot me.″

For three hours Wednesday morning, Stuck talked to Linda, who had barricaded herself inside a bedroom, uncertain where 66-year-old Brian Schlaepfer had gone with his shotgun and .22-caliber rifle.

Linda’s mother, who had called police only to be gunned down as she cried for help, screamed as she lay dying downstairs.

Eleven-year-old brother Aaron was gasping with a gunshot wound to the chest in his bedroom.

Linda’s father, two uncles and grandmother were killed outside and in an adjacent house. All were shot except Schlaepfer’s wife, who was stabbed to death.

Police found Schlaepfer’s body hours later in a bush-covered gully about 50 yards from the homes. He had killed himself and still cradled the shotgun to his chest.

Linda was rescued from the house and taken for counseling.

Police said today they found a note from the gunman but would not detail its contents. Asked if it was a suicide note, police spokesman Graham Bell said: ″It could have taken that form.″

Relatives said Schlaepfer had been suffering from bouts of depression.

Schlaepfer, a community leader known for his generosity, was the patriarch of the extended family whose forebearers settled the property in 1886.

A heated argument preceded the massacre, but Linda doesn’t know what it was about.

Stuck received an emergency call shortly after 7:30 a.m. Wednesday from a hysterical Hazel Schlaepfer, the gunman’s daughter-in-law, but their conversation ended abruptly when she dropped the phone.

In the background, Stuck could hear raised voices, then a shot. Five minutes later, Linda came on the line.

The girl said that when she heard a shot, she ran to hide, first in her bedroom closet, then under her bed.

″She told me that she heard her grandfather come into the room and call her name - her mother was still screaming in the background at that stage,″ Stuck said.

After Schlaepfer left the house, he continued calling for Linda. She went into her brother Aaron’s bedroom and saw him dying on the floor. She told Stuck she had heard Aaron begging her grandfather not to kill him.

Linda locked the doors and went upstairs, using tables and chairs to barricade herself in. She resumed the conversation on an upstairs phone.

″She sort of hit a wall when she realized just what had happened and was very, very upset when she realized she could possibly lose her whole family,″ said Stuck.

They talked about Linda’s school interests, her ballet and jazz dancing, and about how her family had been to the movies the day before.

Every 15 minutes or so he tried to get more details for police who were converging on the area. Linda came up with a password - ″rabbit″ - for police to use when they broke down the door.

″I was amazed at just how brave and intelligent the girl was,″ Stuck said.