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Dylan Cox and Tabitha Belmonte

Families fight over orphan's fate after teenage murder-suicide

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Two grieving families in Otter Tail County, Minn., are left with questions to which there likely won't be answers.

No one can explain why 17-year-old Dylan Cox fired a gun multiple times at his 16-year-old girlfriend, Tabitha Belmonte, then turned the gun on himself.

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But in the aftermath of Monday's tragedy, at least some details are clear:

There's an unexpected killer, a slain victim and a 7-month-old orphan caught in the middle.

Just days after the deaths of Dylan and Tabitha, a dispute has already begun between their families over custody of the teens' baby girl, Emma Cox.

"She's in safe hands and we aren't disclosing where she is now, just for her own safety," said Dr. Susan Vitalis, a friend and family spokesperson for the Coxes. "They intend to keep Emma where she's been living her entire life - and that's with them."

But, fearing for Emma's well-being after the shootings, Tabitha's family has already retained an attorney and contacted social services to seek guardianship of Emma as soon as possible.

"Two bodies already left that house. We don't want Emma to be the third," said Bobbi Teeple, Tabitha's mother.

New details

Tabitha's and Dylan's deaths were the result of a murder-suicide, in which Dylan fired the gun, authorities said Wednesday.

Dylan's parents, Cathy and Darrin Cox, called 911 to report the shooting at 9:07 p.m. Monday, Otter Tail County Sheriff Brian Schlueter said.

Tabitha and Dylan lived with Emma at the home of Cox's parents at 30811 Twin Lakes Road near Amor, Minn.

Dylan, Tabitha, Emma and Cox's parents were all home when the shooting occurred, Schlueter said.

Amor is in central Otter Tail County, about 60 miles southeast of Fargo-Moorhead.

Tabitha was dead at the scene, and Dylan was airlifted to Fargo's Sanford Medical Center, where he died Tuesday after he was taken off life support.

Schlueter said the investigation remains open, as there are "still quite a few loose ends to tie up."

He would not comment on what might have led to the shootings or how Dylan got a gun.

Tabitha's relatives said Schlueter told them the Coxes kept "a lot of guns" in the home. Hunting was among Dylan's interests, his family said.

Tabitha's grandfather Ted Bergeron said Schlueter told him Tabitha was shot multiple times in the head and Dylan had a fatal wound in the temple.

"It's shocking because of Dylan," Bergeron said. "I can't believe that somebody would do something like that."

Dylan, great kid

The families of Tabitha and Dylan are perplexed such a tragedy came at the hands of a boy they agree was quiet, polite and well-mannered.

"We're in total shock. I couldn't have imagined Dylan picking up a gun and shooting Tabitha," said Teeple, Tabitha's mother. "He was very gentle and kind."

The Cox family released a statement to The Forum, in which they described Dylan as sensitive, creative and active.

Dylan loved his friends and family - especially his daughter - and "was eagerly waiting for Emma to say her first words and take her first steps."

"Dylan was a great kid," the family said. "People are looking for an answer to this tragedy, and we would love to know the answers - but some questions will never be answered."

Yet the praises offered by both Tabitha's relatives and Dylan's family are in contrast to the impression given by Dylan's Facebook profile - which listed his inspirations as including Charles Manson and the founder of the Church of Satan.

The Cox family statement said The Forum's original reporting on what was found on Dylan's Facebook page was "very biased."

Vitalis said the worrisome references in Dylan's profile were far from who he was in reality.

"He was not a Satanic-type person. He was totally a gentle person, and he was not violent at all," she said. "(Teens) will put things on Facebook that may be out of character, but that's part of the social-networking scene. It did not define him at all."

Cox's family has since deleted Dylan's Facebook profile.

Tabitha was also on Facebook, but her profile is blocked from public view due to privacy restrictions.

Family grief

After Tabitha gave birth to Emma in August, she moved in with Dylan and his parents, Teeple said.

"That was fine, because I knew she was in love with Dylan," Teeple said.

Emma was Tabitha's world.

She inspired the young mother and Perham high school sophomore to earn better grades and get a part-time job to support her child, Teeple said.

The Cox family said Tabitha told them she'd had a "difficult upbringing."

"Tabby needed our family's help, and we were happy to be there for her," the Coxes said.

Teeple acknowledged that she "wasn't a very good mom for some time," but said Tabitha had a good relationship with her and her husband, Steve, more recently.

Bobbi and Steve Teeple work on the road for months at a time, taking them far from their home in nearby Dent.

The Teeples and the Coxes have not spoken since before the shootings - a fact that frustrates Tabitha's relatives although they acknowledge the Coxes' grief.

"I can't imagine what they're going through," Bergeron said. "We have the peace of mind knowing Tabby's in a wonderful place. I don't think they have the same peace of mind about Dylan."

As the families continue funeral arrangements, their focus shifts to Emma's future - with whom it will be and the potential legal battle that might determine that outcome.

"The only part of Tabby we've got left is Emma," Teeple said. "We just want her back, that's all."

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