ELBERTA — Robert Michael Freebold’s family was gone in a spray of bullets.
And three days later, investigators still aren’t sure just whom among the three dead and one survivor pulled triggers.
But answers may come soon — Benzie County Undersheriff Greg Hubers said more information would be released Wednesday morning, though he declined Tuesday to say what that might entail.
The shooting erupted shortly before dinnertime on Nov. 20, according to a Benzie County Sheriff’s Department release, leaving Freebold critically injured and killing three others.
Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said many unknowns remain in the case — questions he hopes Freebold can soon answer. He and Hubers said detectives have made several attempts to speak with the injured man, but they’ve had little success because of his condition.
“We are waiting on certain further investigations and results from the lab team,” Hubers said, adding that he was waiting for detectives to return from the hospital later Tuesday evening.
Deputies aren’t sure what happened before the shooting started and who fired shots inside the home, and investigators hope Freebold will provide critical information, Schendel said.
“He knows something happened — we just gotta try to get that information from him,” Schendel said. “We’re still trying to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together so that we can figure out exactly what happened.”
Deputies had little prior contact with the household, and nearest neighbors — a quarter-mile away — told investigators they hadn’t noticed anything wrong until red and blue lights illuminated the street, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
The multi-homicide was discovered after a strange 911 call rang into Benzie County Central Dispatch at about 6 p.m. Nov. 20, according to the release. Dispatchers detected labored breathing and what sounded like a faint call for help, but no one answered their questions.
Without an address, name or explanation of the situation, dispatchers weren’t stumped — instead, with help from the agency’s emergency communications specialist, dispatchers managed to narrow the call’s origin to a small chunk of the county in and near Elberta, according to the release.
A Benzie County deputy was en-route minutes later to a home off Grand Avenue in Elberta. The deputy had hardly approached the single-family home when he found a man, severely injured, rested just inside the house’s front door.
A Frankfort Police officer pulled up moments later to assist, and they opted to enter the home. They found three more people inside who had been shot.
Two of them, Robert James Freebold, 27, and Marilyn Schultz Freebold, 63, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Another, Malachi Andrew Maloney, 20, died en-route to Munson Medical Center. The surviving 58-year-old Freebold was hospitalized and remains so, according to the release.
Hubers previously told the Record-Eagle that two handguns were found inside the home, both had been fired. Investigators don’t suspect anyone outside the home was involved.
Elberta, a lightly populated village nestled between Lake Michigan and Betsie Lake, isn’t a high-crime area, Schendel said.
“Nothing like this normally happens (here),” he said, adding for emphasis that, in his 8 years as sheriff, he’d only seen two other homicides. “Nothing along these lines.”
Michigan State Police crime lab investigators are assisting in the investigation, according to MSP spokesman Lt. Derrick Carroll. Those efforts include collecting, bagging and, now, processing evidence.
Investigators were also aided on-scene by Department of Natural Resources officers, Benzie EMS workers and Frankfort firefighters. MSP troopers offered on-scene support as well.
The investigation is active, and detectives are working on interviewing family members and gathering further evidence while they wait on evidence processing and finalized autopsy results, which often lag a few weeks as toxicology reports are returned.
Schendel doesn’t expect those results to bring any surprises, especially regarding cause of death.
“At this point, we know what they died from — gunshot wounds,” he said. “Right now, the main goal is asking questions of the survivor.”
See updates at www.record-eagle.com.
This story was last edited Nov. 27, 2020 to correct relationship references.