Autumn Ross wanted a chicken Caesar salad.
She posted her craving on Facebook Thursday afternoon. Her mom, Christine Ross, wrote back, “I’ll bring you one.”
Christine, who recently moved to Ohio, was in Lancaster for a few days to stay with her older brother James Sterbinsky and see family, including her six kids and 15 grandchildren.
In back-and-forth comments they made plans. Autumn was to stop by after her shift at Luxe salon in Lancaster around 9:30 p.m.
Around 10:30 p.m. Sterbinsky violently stabbed both women to death and wounded his nephew, police said.
Family members don’t have an explanation for what happened at Sterbinsky`s home that night. The 56-year-old had a history of drug use, and that could have been a factor, some speculated.
“We really don’t know other than the fact that (Sterbinsky) is the one that committed the crime,” said Brian Jacyszyn, Christine’s oldest son and Autumn’s brother.
“Everything happened so fast,” Autumn’s sister Sarah Johnson said in an interview at Jacyszyn’s Manor Township home Tuesday.
Now the family is left wrought with grief from the unthinkable and clinging to memories of the women they loved.
‘How proud I was’
In the last conversation Cody Ross had with his 20-year-old daughter Autumn, they talked about her next steps in adulthood. She had recently graduated from Empire Beauty School and started working at Luxe.
“I was talking with her about how proud I was of the steps that she had been taking in getting her life on track,” said Cody Ross, sitting next to Denise Ross, his wife of nearly 10 years and partner for longer than that, in their New Holland home Tuesday.
Pictures of Autumn filled their coffee table. A slideshow of photos of Autumn revolved on their television. Some pieces of her artwork hung on the walls.
“She was daddy's girl,” Cody Ross, 58, said.
It’s not that their relationship was easy. Cody and Denise got custody of Autumn in 2008 when she was in second grade. In 2013, Autumn decided she wanted to live with her mom. A few years later she reconnected with her dad and stepmother, and they rebuilt their relationship since, Cody said.
The couple even adopted Autumn's son, Jolin, five months after he was born in 2015. Autumn visited weekly with her boyfriend, Jolin’s father, Marquale Benedict.
Benedict, 20, met Autumn in 2013.
“Words can’t describe her,” he said Tuesday, after attempting to list a few: caring, outgoing, beautiful and smart.
When one of Autumn’s siblings called Benedict around 2:30 a.m. after the stabbing, he ran the mile from their Old Dorwart Street apartment to Lancaster General Hospital. He then learned she had died around 1 a.m.
“It devastated me,” he said.
In Cody’s last conversation with Autumn, he also told her to be careful around her uncle, whom he considered “bad news.” But Cody never imagined his daughter’s life would be in danger.
“You muddle through. You keep praying, keep supporting, keep loving,” Denise said. “I’m gonna miss her a lot.”
Cared about her kids
Christine and Autumn, her youngest, were close and similar in a lot of ways, Jacyszyn and Johnson said.
Christine worked hard to take care of her kids while they grew up in the Strasburg area.
“She was a really good mom, and she cared very much about all of her kids and wanted to give them the world,” said Johnson, 32, who lives in Willow Street.
Helping their 33-year-old brother Chris Jacyszyn recover from the stabbing has become the siblings’ focus.
Part of his lung had to be removed, but the doctors have said he should be able to recover fully, Johnson said. They started a GoFundMe in his name to pay for medical bills and for funeral bills for Christine and Autumn.
Family brought together
“One of the things (Christine) always said was, ‘You guys have to stick together,’ ” said Brian Jacyszyn.
If nothing else, the tragedy has done that, drawing the scattered family together to look for hope where they can find it.
There was the miraculous escape of Chris Jacyszyn’s kids during the stabbing. His son, 9, helped his daughter, 5, get out of the second-story window onto a roof below, then onto a pile of trash bags before carrying her down the street, family members said.
There was the gathering Sunday, when the Rosses hosted the siblings and as they shared memories and made funeral arrangements.
And then there’s Jolin, Autumn’s son, who will turn 4 in August.
Denise Ross played a video of Jolin she took about two years ago. “Mama,” he says, while she points to a framed photo of Autumn. He then says “I love you,” word by word, echoing Denise’s prompts. His curly hair is reflected in the glass of the picture frame.
As little Jolin grows up, he’s sure to see photos and artwork and hear story upon story about his mom.