A US man apparently murdered his wife and three small children before fatally shooting himself, police in the eastern state of Maryland said on Saturday.
Christopher Alan Wood, 34, was believed to have slain his wife Francis Billotti-Wood, 33, their boys aged five and four, and their two-year-old girl at the couple's home in Middletown, Frederick County sheriff's department corporal Jennifer Bailey told AFP.
"We are investigating this as a murder-suicide," said Bailey.
"The investigation indicates that Mr Wood killed the members of his family and then himself by an apparent gunshot wound," she said.
The family members may have been slashed or hacked to death, but Bailey only said the victims "sustained traumatic cut injuries"
The two boys were found in their beds, while the mother and the two year-old girl were found together in the master bed, Bailey said.
Police found Wood at the foot of the master bed with the shotgun nearby.
Authorities removed several notes from the crime scene -- apparently written by Wood -- but Bailey would not immediately comment on their content.
Police "have not determined a motive at this point," Bailey said, noting that agents removed the shotgun as well as items that could have been used as a weapon from the home.
The Wood residence is located in the center of a town of 3,000 known for horse and dairy farms in a bucolic valley 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Washington. Middletown is just southwest of a larger colonial-era town, Frederick.
The family attended the Holy Family Catholic Community church in Middletown and had not been seen since Easter, the local newspaper, the Frederick-News Post, reported.
The church's priest, Kevin Farmer, told the paper that Francis Billotti-Wood taught religion classes at Holy Family.
A spate of high-profile mass killings in the United States in recent months -- including half a dozen rampages since March -- shows the impact the economic meltdown is having on rising violence, experts say.
In Binghamton, New York, a jobless immigrant early this month went on a murderous rampage in the center where he learned English, mowing down 13 people before killing himself.
The massacre was followed a day later by the murder of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they were shot dead as they responded to a domestic disturbance call.
On March 29, a heavily armed gunman shot dead eight people at a North Carolina nursing home, days after six people were killed in an apparent murder-suicide in an upscale neighborhood in northern California's Silicon Valley.
A day earlier, US media reported a brutal scene discovered at a Boston home -- a man had stabbed to death his 17-year-old sister, decapitated his five-year-old sister and began stabbing another sister before being shot by police.
Direct correlations may not always immediately surface, but criminologist Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, says the trends are clear.
"Catastrophic losses serve as inspiration, or precipitant," he said.
In a severe recession there are simply more people suffering such a loss, he says.
In an economic downturn, the United States often sees "many more large-body-count murders -- on the job, in the family -- as many more Americans feel desperate in a situation they feel got completely out of control."