Zimmerman death ruled a suicide

By Jim Boyle • Star News

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner confirmed last week that Stephanie Shields’ death was a suicide.

The Zimmerman woman drowned her two children in her home on Easter weekend and then committed suicide, according to Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott.

“As of today’s date, there’s nothing we have learned since the early days of the investigation that has turned us in any direction other than she, in fact, committed two homicides and then took her own life,” Brott said.

Shields and her two children, Nolan, 7, and Joesphine, 6, were found dead on Easter Sunday morning. Her husband,  Mark Shields, had moved out of the home about a week before when the couple separated.

Her death was preliminarily ruled a “probable suicide” earlier this month, pending further investigation and toxicology reports, even though she left no signs of her plans in the form of a note, phone call or conversation.

The sheriff said he won’t be revealing how Shields took her life or any details of the drownings out of sensitivity to the family and community.

“I don’t see any value in being graphic,” he said of her death and the deaths of her two children.

The sheriff did say it is believed that the deaths likely occurred sometime during the day on Friday, and there were no signs of any preparation for the Easter holiday.

A neighbor and close friend of the family had seen the children playing in the garage on Thursday evening, and even stopped over and visited with Stephanie that day.

The children were last seen playing at the home on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, the same neighbor who had visited with Stephanie was called and asked to check on the home and did, knocking on the front door and trying to peer into windows. The home had been closed up, which neighbors said was unusual for the home was usually buzzing with activity.

The curtains were drawn and shades had been pulled down. No one responded to her neighbor’s attempt to connect with someone in the home.

A family member became concerned after repeated attempts to reach Stephanie were unsuccessful and drove up from the cities on Easter morning to check on her. Upon arrival, she came upon the friend of the family who had checked on Stephanie the day before. This neighbor agreed to help the relative search the home. They made the discovery  and called 911.

Mark Shields learned of the deaths of his children and wife soon after this call.

He was on his way from Cambridge to Zimmerman when authorities spotted his vehicle and decided against pulling him over to alert or divert him. They let him continue to Zimmerman and the  residence.

“He had no idea of the deaths until he got there,” Brott said.

As Stephanie’s husband, Brott said he was – as a matter of course – a person of interest in the case, but he said authorities didn’t see him do anything that made them suspect him.

“We felt comfortable that first day at the scene that it was as it appeared,” Brott said of the double homicide-suicide.

Investigators collected and analyzed forensics, completed toxicology reports, examined electronic records and combed over witness statements. “The totality of all those things leads the medical examiner’s office to rule it a suicide,” Brott said.

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