Moments before succumbing to multiple stab wounds on Aug. 3, Ashley Menard frantically called 911 for help from the backyard of her parents' Northridge home, police said.
The 16-year-old's bloodied body was found by investigators later that morning in the yard next to a koi pond where she apparently had fled from her attacker, who police said was wielding "a large knife." In the foyer of the house were the bodies of her parents, David and Toni Menard, both of whom had been repeatedly stabbed. David had also been shot at least once.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 12, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Multiple killings: An article in Friday's California section about three family members stabbed to death at their Northridge home last week included two errors. The story incorrectly gave the date of the slayings as Aug. 3; they occurred Aug. 4. It also stated that suspect Brandon Menard was a Pierce College student. A school official, however, said Friday that the college had no record that he was ever a student.
Shortly after Ashley's 911 call, her brother, Brandon, phoned police to report finding his parents' bodies, said Kevin Maiberger, an LAPD spokesman. A few hours later, Brandon, a 21-year-old Pierce College student, was arrested at the scene in connection with the slayings. He has since been charged in all three deaths.
On Thursday afternoon, Scott Menard, 27, the eldest sibling, walked up the concrete path to his childhood home, staring dazedly at the memorial balloons, cards and candles scattered across the frontyard and porch of the single-story house.
Since the slayings, Scott Menard has gone to the house every day, wandering aimlessly through the rooms, trying to understand how this could have happened to his family.
"We really were the picture-perfect family," he said as he stood in the frontyard smoking a cigarette.
Indeed, from the outside, the Menards had appeared to be happy.
David Menard, 56, was a successful real estate broker; his wife, Toni, 55, was a nursing supervisor. Scott is a Seattle firefighter, and Brandon, in addition to attending college, is an active Boy Scout. Ashley was a popular dancer at Granada Hills Charter High School.
Neighbors said the family was close, eating dinner together daily and always planning trips together.
But some of Ashley's friends said there were problems. They said the teenager -- who, like her two siblings, was adopted -- often complained about her father's strictness and talked of growing tensions between him and Brandon, who frequently left home to live with friends.
"Brandon became more violent during each passing year," said one friend, who asked not to be identified. "He became cold and distant to everyone."
On more than one occasion, Ashley's friend said, Brandon broke into the family's home to steal jewelry, money and credit cards. He also fought with his parents about rent and curfews.
"Mrs. Menard kept giving him chances, saying, 'Oh, he'll change,' " the friend said. "But he never did."
Another friend recalled Ashley breaking into tears at school when problems flared at home.
"The only time she didn't have a smile on her face was when she came to school and cried or was upset because she was having family problems," her friend said.
Those close to Brandon maintained their belief in his innocence but acknowledged that he also spoke of trouble at home.
Richard Collingwood, who had met the suspect outside a coffee shop while playing cards, said Brandon often fought with his parents and eventually moved in with Collingwood.
"They didn't seem to be any sort of extreme arguments," he said. "It was just stupid stuff as far as I could tell."
In any case, Brandon wouldn't hurt his family, especially Ashley, with whom he maintained a close relationship, Collingwood said. "It stretches the imagination to imagine him killing his parents," he said. "But his sister? I can't believe it. It's just not true."
Friends said Brandon and Ashley spent a lot of time together. They worked alongside each other at Spooky House, a seasonal haunted house in Northridge. Brandon also chauffeured his sister around because she didn't have a driver's license and often took her to see the continually running cult movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a favorite of both.
Their MySpace.com profiles also reveal striking similarities in their personalities. They both loved classic rock, particularly the Who, and both feared spiders. They also liked Stephen King novels. And while Brandon wrote and posted stories about zombies, Ashley listed "The Zombie Survival Guide" as one of her favorite books.
Each said their parental relationships were fine, "unless they're on one of they're SCHIZO stages," Brandon wrote in one entry.
But the siblings' websites also revealed some differences, including Brandon's penchant for reading "autopsy textbooks."
"I'm just kinda spooky like that, y'know?" he wrote.
The aspiring writer also kept several online journals in which he posted photos of himself along with stories of murder, greed and the afterlife. Some entries, dating to April 2003, are filled with references to vampires, zombies and conversations with the devil.
Others are brief but no less dark.
"I want to drown the world in blood," he wrote on May 5, 2003.