updated 3/30/2010 4:38:33 PM ET 2010-03-30T20:38:33

Police on Tuesday said a North Carolina father sent his daughter to school for two weeks with a dire warning: Tell anyone about your two dead siblings at home, and I'll kill you and your brother, too.

She didn't tell anyone. In fact, police said no one found out the children and their mother were dead until officers came to Kenneth Jermaine Chapman's door Monday night to check on his wife because her uncle hadn't heard from her for a while.

When police arrived, Chapman went upstairs and sent the 10-year-old girl and her 2-year-old half brother outside. He shot at officers from the top of the stairs, police said. Then came more gunshots.

Inside, officers found Chapman dead. The bodies of his wife's teenage daughter and the couple's baby daughter were in a locked bedroom. A few hours later, authorities found Chapman's wife dead at a larger apartment the couple moved out of a few weeks ago.

Investigators said the surviving girl told them her dad and stepmom argued two weeks ago, and she didn't see 34-year-old Nateesha Ward Chapman again. That night, she heard her 13-year-old stepsister Na'Jhae Parker scream, then gunshots. Her half sister, 13-month-old Nakyiah Jael Chapman, started screaming too. Then more gunshots. Dad came out, locked the door, and told her he'd kill her and her brother if she told anyone, police said.

"Her bravery and composure was truly remarkable," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Capt. Paul Zinkann said, pausing to regain his composure at a Tuesday news conference. "She, her little brother are with family members and are being cared for now."

Carol Latimer, who lived next to the family for five months, said she never saw the couple fight. The Chapmans kept to themselves, and Latimer's conversations with Nateesha Chapman never went beyond making sure the kids got to the bus stop or other child care issues.

"She was really closed as far as her personal life," Latimer said. "We didn't talk much unless she needed help."

Latimer talked even more rarely with Kenneth Chapman. She knew he worked the night shift, but never found out where. He only said a few words when she asked him questions. The family member she got to know the best was the 10-year-old girl. They sat outside and ate fruit snacks one day after school when her dad and stepmom weren't home.

Latimer said the couple moved out of the home where Nateesha Chapman's body was found weeks ago, and she never heard anything from the apartment or saw anyone over there again until police arrived early Tuesday morning.

Neighbors at the couple's other home said they only saw them move in and couldn't remember seeing an adult woman at the home at all. Jerome Sanders didn't even know they had dogs until he heard them barking as police talked to him after discovering the bodies.

"They just seemed typical, what little I saw," Sanders said. "I heard a baby crying once, but that was about it."

Court records show an eviction notice was served on the apartment where Nateesha Chapman's body was found, but shed little other light on whether they were having financial trouble. Calls to family members of the couple went unanswered Tuesday.

Investigators are still trying to figure out not only why Kenneth Chapman killed his family, but why he tried to hide it for weeks and acted like nothing happened.

"What this man did was despicable and cowardly," Zinkann said.

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