updated 3/1/2008 10:44:54 PM ET 2008-03-02T03:44:54

A mother and two children were killed in a predawn attack at their remote East Texas ranch, which burned to the ground, and three high school students who knew the family will be charged with murder, authorities said.

The father was in critical condition with a gunshot wound, Rains County Sheriff David Traylor said at a news conference.

Three high school students, including one juvenile, and an adult were arrested and booked into the Rains County jail. The two males and two females will be charged with three counts each of capital murder, Traylor said.

The family had a teenage daughter, but Traylor did not provide information on her whereabouts. The dead were a 39-year-old woman and two boys, ages 8 and 13, Traylor said.

"It's the scariest thing," Traylor said. "You don't know what to make. I guess you imagine the worst and hope for the best."

Authorities were tightlipped on details, but Traylor said autopsies have been ordered.

The house sat on at least 20 acres of pine-canopied, remote land on a narrow gravel road with just two other homes, Traylor said.

Harold Read, who lives about a mile away, said he was awakened by what he thought was thunder around 4 a.m., the time when authorities were first called to the house.

"All you read about out here are ticky-tacky crimes in the local paper," said Read, 67. "I never lock my doors. This is a quiet place."

Alba is about 60 miles northeast of Dallas. A neighbor who didn't want to be identified described the area as so quiet that the sheriff once told him the only crimes are deer poachers about twice a year.

By late Saturday, firefighters sifted through the ash and singed metal that was all that remained from the house. A wooden sign tacked to a tree in the family's dirt driveway read "Joshua 24:15," and a burned van was parked near where the home once stood.

Joshua 24:15, a verse from the Old Testament, reads in part, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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