Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions of graphic violence and suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Newly disclosed autopsy reports on Tuesday revealed new details about the deaths of two young brothers in May at the hands of their father, who authorities initially believed did not own a gun.
The new autopsy reports were significant because they revealed for the first time that Paul Otto Reinhart, 46, of Gainesville used a firearm in the crimes.
That issue – whether police can reliably determine in a developing crisis whether someone has a gun – adds to previous questions in the case about why it took sheriff’s investigators so long to track Reinhart after he disappeared with his sons.
The reports made available Tuesday describe the fatal injuries of the brothers, Rex, 14, and Brody, 11, and their father.
Authorities had said only that Reinhart – who had separated from his wife, Minde Reinhart, and lost his high-paying executive job – was suspected of killing his sons and setting fire to the family’s waterfront vacation home in Dixie County in western Florida then killing himself.
The new reports said Reinhart shot both sons before he shot himself and set the fire.
A lawyer for the boys’ mother late Tuesday formally requested that news organizations refrain from publishing any details about their deaths from the autopsy reports because it would be too upsetting. The family was prominent in Gainesville’s social and political circles, and Brody Reinhart regularly served as the unofficial batboy for the University of Florida baseball team.
“Minde and her family do not want to know the details contained within these reports about her children’s murder and we respectfully request that you refrain from publishing the reports or any of the details contained within them,” Jeff Aaron of the Gray-Robinson law firm in Orlando wrote in a letter. “Please understand that Minde and her family are obviously suffering an unimaginable loss. Do the right thing and help protect Minde, her family, and all the impacted children from further trauma.”
Fresh Take Florida, a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, considered the family’s request at the highest levels of the college and decided to publish limited but relevant details from the new reports, which are government records available to anyone under state law.
Earlier reporting raised significant questions about why authorities weren’t able to track Reinhart more quickly after he disappeared with his sons and why law enforcement believed he did not own a gun.
Authorities had said previously their belief that Reinhart did not own a gun was based on a statement from Mrs. Reinhart and records reviewed by sheriff’s investigators of recent firearms transactions. The autopsy reports said Rex appeared to be shot with a 9 mm projectile, a caliber common to handguns. It was not clear where or how Reinhart obtained a gun, or whether he did so lawfully.
The final law enforcement investigative report in the case – including efforts by two county sheriffs’ offices and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – was expected to be made public next week. That report could answer questions about why it took so long to find Reinhart and his sons, how Reinhart secretly obtained a gun, when he began plotting the murders and whether he hinted about his plans to anyone.
In the new reports, the medical examiner’s office said it could not determine the sequence of the wounds, so it was not known which boy died first.
The report indicated they did not die from the fire. Neither had evidence of carbon monoxide in their blood, and soot was not detected in their lungs. No foreign substances were detected in their bloodstreams.
Reinhart shot himself but not before exposure to the fire and smoke. He suffered significant carbon monoxide exposure in his blood, tests showed. A measure of the carboxyhemoglobin in his blood put its concentration at 55%, generally enough to render an adult unconscious. His cause of death was listed as the gunshot wound.
Reinhart disappeared with the boys the morning of May 4 after publishing 64 photos from his wedding to his Facebook page at 5 a.m., then texting Mrs. Reinhart a message about their marriage. They had formally separated, and she was living nearby.
“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.”
She replied by text: “Please don’t hurt yourself or the boys. Please come home.”
By then, Mrs. Reinhart was already at the family’s luxury home in a gated community. 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. She had dialed 911, sparking a search by law enforcement for Reinhart, who had driven roughly 50 miles west to their waterfront vacation home near Suwannee.
Authorities arrived at that home nearly one hour after they received an initial tip that Reinhart was there. By the time a sheriff’s deputy arrived, firefighters had already been called to extinguish the burning home. A firefighter in protective gear wrote in his official report that he crawled through smoke so thick inside he couldn’t see until he found the boys’ bodies on upstairs bunk beds. Reinhart’s body was found collapsed nearby.
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, 50, 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.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com