Suspect in slayings of woman, 3 children fatally shot by police at Sanford motel, officials say

Al Stenson, 38, barricaded himself at Slumberland Motel

SANFORD, Fla. – Law enforcement at a Sanford motel shot and killed the suspect in the deaths of a woman and her three children found dead inside an apartment, according to officials.

Lake Wales police found a 40-year-old woman and her children — 21, 17 and 11 years old — dead from apparent gunshot wounds. The suspect, Al Stenson, 38, of Lake Wales, was located at the Slumberland Motel, where he made statements he would kill himself or have police kill him, according to law enforcement.

Stenson’s vehicle was spotted near the motel around 2 a.m. on Wednesday. Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma said during a news briefing Lake Wales police and Sanford police contacted the sheriff’s office for assistance.

Lemma said the SWAT team responded to the motel around 6 a.m. and took over negotiations from the Lake Wales Police Department.

“At one time they appeared to be pretty successful, however, our suspect did at numerous times, both with the Lake Wales police investigators as well as Sanford and members of our crisis negotiation team, make the comment that this wouldn’t work in one of three ways: I’m going to kill myself, you’re going to kill me or I’m going to surrender,” he said.

During the negotiations, Lemma said law enforcement was able to convince Stenson to put down a firearm he had and step away from it. When the SWAT team used a projectile to try and apprehend the suspect, Lemma said Stenson reached for the gun on the ground and authorities shot and killed him.

He said the people who shot at Stenson included two members of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, one member of the Altamonte Springs Police Department and one member of the Sanford Police Department.

“This guy is a murderer, a threat and he did not fully comply with the orders to walk far enough away from the firearm where we felt like he could not get to it in a matter of time where he could present a threat to the officers that were on scene,” the sheriff said. “This wasn’t a scenario that he put the firearm down, he placed his hands behind his back, he walked a distance away from the firearm. Should those circumstances have occurred, we would have taken into custody.”

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The sheriff said Stenson went to the motel because his brother was already staying there, though it is unknown how long the brother had been there.

Lemma said there is no threat to the community and “any threat that was presented here was very specific to the incidents occurring down in the Lake Wales area.”

Detectives said their investigation determined Stenson shot the victims inside the apartment around 5 a.m. Tuesday and fled. Authorities were not contacted until about 16 hours later when family members found the victims.

The motive for shooting the mother and her children is unknown, but police said Stenson and the victims knew each other and he may have lived at the apartment.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting, as per protocol.

Police activity forced the closure of northbound U.S. 17-92 from 27th Street to Park Drive. Drivers are asked to avoid the area.

This is a developing story and will be updated with more information as we receive it.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.