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Family cites Clearwater mom's depression in murder-suicide

CLEARWATER - Family members say depression may have led 34-year-old Dawn Brown to kill her two children and take her own life. A downward spiral began with family financial woes, which led to her arrest on welfare fraud charges. That thwarted her plans to become a teacher. She remained a caring mother, friends and family said, but the breaking point may have come Friday when her husband, Murphy, said he wanted to leave her. In the aftermath, a distraught and guilt-ridden Brown is having difficulty getting along, his father said Monday.
"He's doing kind of bad," said Bryon Brown, the boys' grandfather. "He's trying to cope. We're all trying to cope. ... He'll never get over it. He's just going to have to live with it." Murphy Brown discovered his sons 9-year-old Zander and 5-year-old Zayden – dead in their beds early Saturday morning. Pinellas County deputies say their mother killed the boys, then hanged herself. Byron Brown has good memories of Dawn Brown, and praised her work ethic and ability to try to be a working mother. She had hoped to be a school teacher. "She was a hard-working person and she had tried, while raising her two boys, to get her a teaching certificate," he said. "She was an excellent, wonderful mom." It had been a financial nightmare in recent years for family. Murphy Brown is a freelance mechanic. Electricity at their home had been shut off for days, and the Browns were relying on a neighbor's extension cord for power. The home has been in foreclosure proceedings at least three times since 2002, with the most recent case filed in February, according to court records. Then there was Dawn Brown's arrest last year. She was charged with welfare fraud on June 8, 2011, under her maiden name of Dawn Michelle Barylski. According to records, she did not notify the government when her husband was hired as a school bus driver. On Sept. 12, she entered a written plea of not guilty in the case, which was slated for a pre-trial hearing Oct. 1. "When that happened, it just affected her because she could never work as a teacher," Byron Brown said. "She was a happy person, but after the arrest, she just spiraled down. Some people can handle things and some people can't. "She just gave up, you know? She wouldn't take care of herself. She didn't take care of the house." Brown saw that there was a need for some kind of help, and he tried to get his son to reach out. "I had spoken to Murph a few months before that and explained to him that she needed help," Byron Brown said. "Deep down they have a problem, a mental problem, that needs to be addressed." Vernita Brown, Murphy Brown's stepmother, said she is still trying to think of a reason for what happened and has spoken to her pastor to get some perspective. "We may not ever know the reason," she said. "Murph may not ever know the reasons, but it was in someone else's hands." Byron Brown said the two boys were just like other children. "The boys were fun-loving and outgoing," said Byron Brown. "They loved to play outdoors and frolic and run like the other kids." Murphy Brown also liked to be in the outdoors with the children. "He took them to the park and to the beach, and they loved that. Swimming, and fishing, kayaking," Byron Brown said. "They weren't the kind to sit around and look at TV all day." Murphy Brown, 36, went out with friends after telling his wife of his plans to end the marriage. He found his boys in their beds when he returned home early Saturday, tucked in, friend and neighbor William Lavold said. "Dawn had put them in their beds," he said. Brown declined to be interviewed Sunday but agreed to answer a few questions through Lavold, who relayed a reporter's questions during a phone call with Brown. Authorities have not said how the boys were killed, discussed a motive or said whether Dawn Brown left a suicide note. The medical examiner's office will determine the official cause of death after conducting autopsies. Lavold, who went into the house after Brown discovered his family's bodies, said it looked as though the boys had been drowned. He saw water all over the bathroom floor. "(And) there were six towels kicked to the side," he said. But he saw no blood or signs of a struggle."

News Channel 8 reporter Natalie Shepherd contributed to this report.

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