Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
“You’re going to live with this the rest of your life.”
The text message from her estranged husband arrived at 5:39 a.m., even as Minde Reinhart was already on the phone with a sheriff’s dispatcher pleading for help and searching for answers. Paul Reinhart, 46, had disappeared into the night with the couple’s two young sons.
She replied by text: “Please don’t hurt yourself or the boys. Please come home.”
No answer. He had stopped texting, she told a 911 dispatcher.
Above: A 2:38 excerpt of a nearly 12-minute 911 call on Tuesday, May 4, from Minde Reinhart, 42, of Gainesville who was reporting her estranged husband and sons missing after what she characterized as suspicious text messages and Facebook posts from him. Paul Reinhart, 46, is suspected of killing his sons, Rex, 14, and Brody, 11, setting fire to the family’s waterfront vacation home in western Florida then killing himself.
Minde Reinhart, 42, had raced through darkness to the luxury home in a gated community in Gainesville where she lived until recently with her husband and sons. Her depressed husband – who separated from his wife and recently lost his high-paying executive job – had bizarrely published 64 photos from their wedding 19 years ago to his Facebook page at 5 a.m.
Texts to Minde around the same time – which ended abruptly – made clear he blamed her for their pending divorce.
“You should have put your family first,” he wrote. “Now it’s too late. You’re so selfish. You’re going to live with this the rest of your life.”
What happened over the next two hours was a tragedy beyond measure. Paul Reinhart, a popular, gregarious figure across social and political circles, is suspected of killing his sons, Rex, 14, and Brody, 11, earlier this week, then starting a fire at his family’s waterfront vacation home near Suwannee before killing himself, too.
New details of the horrific crime – and the minute-by-minute race to try to find and save the boys – are emerging in official reports from four law enforcement and fire rescue agencies across two Florida counties. It is the story of irrational vengeance, two young boys who will never grow old, and a mother’s worst nightmare.
Below: Click through a timeline of the events of that morning.
That morning, sheriff’s deputies scoured the region for the man and his boys. They urgently tracked Paul Reinhart’s cell phone to nearby Dixie County, about 50 miles west of Gainesville, after a neighbor near the family’s vacation home told Minde Reinhart’s friend that her husband’s van was parked outside. Deputies there arrived minutes too late.
Paul Reinhart had been depressed recently but never uttered suicidal thoughts, his wife told a 911 dispatcher. He wasn’t being treated for mental illness or taking psychiatric medication, she said. He did not own a gun, she said, and sheriff’s records added: “Could not locate any recent firearm transactions.”
“He has, before this happened, said he had awful, inappropriate thoughts in his brain. That’s all he said, in his mind. He never had said he’s going to kill himself or…,” she said on the call. Her voice trailed off, as though she was imagining the awful possibilities that morning.
“Oh, my God. I don’t know,” she said.
The family had experienced violent tragedy already: Paul Reinhart is the younger brother of a convicted murderer who also tried to take his own life in a similarly violent household attack seven years ago.
Erick Von Reinhart, 49, pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing his ex-wife’s new boyfriend – just one week after their divorce – then trying to take his own life with a large kitchen knife. He is serving a 40-year sentence in a Florida prison. Paul had financed Erick’s legal defense, a family member said. In court papers, Erick described himself as diagnosed with a “major depressive disorder and severe anxiety.”
When Minde Reinhart arrived at her former home in Gainesville, it was empty of people and the family’s dog. She found roughly 400 photographs from her wedding scattered through the house. The security system had been disabled, so there was no video of anyone arriving or leaving.
“This is just really weird,” she said on the 911 call. “I mean, it’s at 5 in the morning, and there are pictures all over, strategically placed around the house.”
Rex and Brody were her priority. Their beds appeared slept in, candy by their bedsides. She found her sons’ cell phones in the home, so she knew she had no way of contacting them directly or tracking their location. Her husband wasn’t answering, she said, and he had changed his computer’s password so she wasn’t able to track his phone online.
“He always answers the phone, and he’s not,” she said, her voice breaking. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. He’s been depressed. I don’t know.”
Paul Reinhart’s final text to his wife came at 5:39 a.m. Within minutes, deputies in Alachua County began searching for Reinhart and the boys, according to dispatch records obtained under Florida’s public records law. They warned Brody’s elementary school to be on the lookout, checked a local gym, advised nearby hotels to report any sightings, checked the family’s local Catholic church.
Then, at 6:23 a.m., deputy Steven Pillar heard that Paul Reinhart’s van was at the vacation house in Dixie County, a sprawling waterfront home with a jet ski dock out back. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office treated the report as “third-hand information,” spokesman Art Forgey said. A dispatcher sent a teletype – a message from a keyboard device used to send and receive typed messages – to deputies in Dixie County about the van at 6:39 a.m.
“Sending a teletype is not as easy as simply sending an email,” Forgey said.
Meanwhile, at 6:46 a.m., Verizon reported that Paul Reinhart’s cell phone was turned on and closest to a tower near the family’s vacation home near Suwannee. Pillar, the deputy in Gainesville, urged his Dixie County counterpart to call him on his cell phone.
“We have a unit responding and should be making contact with your deputy shortly,” the sheriff’s office there said.
At 7:03 a.m., that deputy told Pillar he was 20 minutes out.
It was too late.
At 7:14 a.m., a neighbor called to report the waterfront home was burning. When firefighters arrived 19 minutes later, the local deputy was already on the scene and said the fire was too intense to go inside. The doors and windows were too hot to use to enter, he said.
A firefighter in protective gear wrote in his official report that the smoke was so thick inside he couldn’t see. He forced open the door and felt his way upstairs, where he searched one empty bedroom in vain before he found a pile of debris in front of a second bedroom door. He crawled over it.
Inside the room, he worked his hands around a bunk bed. “I felt something abnormal and got within inches of it and found it to be a deceased small child,” he wrote. It was Brody. Rex, the boy’s older brother, was on the top bunk’s mattress.
Paul Reinhart’s body was collapsed at the end of the bed.
“There was no one to save,” the firefighter wrote.
The fire caused about $100,000 in damage and was deliberately set, investigators said. They found an unspecified accelerant, perhaps gasoline. A cigarette lighter was the source of the blaze, the report said. The fire chief, Darian Brown, said the fire was mostly extinguished within about five minutes.
It’s not clear yet how the three died.
“No words describe what I feel,” Minde Reinhart wrote in a brief note on Facebook this week, responding to condolences from her sons’ youth baseball teammates. “But knowing they loved every second of life and baseball will keep their memories alive.”
A neighbor in Suwannee found Minde Reinhart’s dog, the lone survivor.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org