A retired Marine killed her young daughter and then herself Monday night in Florida in an apparent murder-suicide hours before the girl was scheduled to fly home to her father, police tell PEOPLE.
Ericka Joseph, 46, was found dead with her 9-year-old daughter, Akili Joseph, in Joseph’s home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday morning, a police spokeswoman says.
According to authorities, Joseph was divorced from Akili’s father, and though they shared custody of the child, Akili spent the majority of her time with her dad in Bogota, Colombia. She was visiting Florida for the holidays, police said. She was scheduled Tuesday morning to fly back to South America with her father, also a retired Marine.
He was on his way to pick up his daughter before he learned she was dead, the Sun Sentinel reports.
“He was here to pick up,” Joseph’s brother, Tony Williams, told the paper. “The pickup routine was uncharacteristic — that’s how we came about to learn .”
While detectives are still working to determine a motive in the deaths, Joseph’s relatives and neighbors have spoken about her increasingly strange behavior. (Neither her family members nor Akili’s father could immediately be reached.)
Williams told NBC Miami he thought Joseph had had trouble transitioning back to civilian life.
“We recently started noticing minor changes, but not to a significant point that it would distress , that it would be something of this nature, to take a life,” Williams told the station.
Neighbors told WSVN that they noticed Joseph closing the hurricane shutters on the windows of her home the night of her death.
“This shutter right here, she was closing it up and making sure it was locked,” neighbor Chaunecia Gresham said. “My boyfriend was like, ‘What is she doing? A hurricane is not coming.’ ”
Another neighbor said she thought it strange Joseph would shutter up her windows so late at night.
According to police, Akili would have turned 10 in April.
“My niece was a vibrant young girl and she loved sports. She was outgoing and smart,” Williams told the Sun Sentinel. “It’s sad, a tragedy, and we still don’t know what happened as of right now.”