updated 11/30/2010 3:54:14 PM ET 2010-11-30T20:54:14

A gunman open fired at an eastern Missouri apartment complex Tuesday, killing three people but leaving two children unharmed before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.

Bonne Terre Police Chief Doug Calvert said he found a woman and her boyfriend dead inside a duplex at Boulder Creek Apartments in Bonne Terre, about 45 miles southwest of St. Louis. He also found a small child who didn't appear to be harmed.

"I grabbed the child in my arms and handed him off to officers to drive to safety," Calvert said.

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Outside the duplex, Calvert found another woman shot in a sport utility vehicle. He said she appeared to have been trying to protect a second young child who was in the vehicle. The child was taken away to safety while the woman was rushed to a hospital, where she died, he said.

Calvert said he saw a man running away from the duplex toward a highway, but as police approached, the man shot himself and was found dead in nearby woods.

The chief said the two children appeared to be around 2 or 3 years old.

Calvert said the victims likely knew each other, though investigators were still trying to determine their relationships with the children and the shooter. It wasn't immediately clear who lived in the duplex where the bodies were found, but Calvert said at least two of the victims lived there.

The names of the victims and suspected gunman haven't been released, but police were expected to release more information later Tuesday. Investigators said domestic violence is suspected because authorities had been called to the apartment in the last week or two.

The shooting happened near North County High School, which was on lockdown until authorities determined there was no threat to students.

Bonne Terre, with nearly 7,000 residents, once was part of the heart of Missouri's lead-mining district, its legacy and landscape once defined by towering piles of mining waste. The city also is home to a maximum-security prison housing the state's execution chamber.

___

Associated Press Writer Jim Suhr contributed to this report from St. Louis.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Police: 'We have a total of 4 dead'

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