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MERRILLVILLE — Authorities are investigating the shooting deaths of two people early Wednesday as an apparent domestic-related murder-suicide, police said.

Sheretha Stevens, 43, and Ivory Johnson Jr., 24, each were pronounced dead at her home in the 5800 block of McKinley Street, according to the Lake County coroner's office. Johnson shot Stevens before turning the gun on himself, Merrillville Police Chief Joseph Petruch said. 

Investigators believe Stevens and Johnson were in a romantic relationship, Merrillville police Cmdr. Jeff Rice said.

However, the woman's mother, Vernice Stevens, said the man never should have been back in her daughter's life or at her daughter's home because of domestic problems in the past.

Two of Sheretha Stevens' three children were taken to a local hospital for evaluations as a precaution, police officials said. 

"They didn't show signs of any injuries," Rice said.

Child Protective Services has been notified, he said.

Merrillville school officials said one of the children is a student at Merrillville High School, and the school district is currently working on a care plan to meet the needs of that student.

Vernice Stevens emphasized the house belonged to her daughter. 

"I got a call this morning about something going on over there," Stevens said. "My oldest grandson lives with me, and I only live just across the tracks from my daughter. I moved from Chicago to be closer to my only daughter and my three grandchildren."

Shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday, Stevens and her three grandchildren arrived at her daughter's house. She said police told her she could go in, but some sort of lock was on the door and she was unable to get in.

Two of the children were peeking through the windows, while Stevens' oldest grandson walked around to the back of the house. He returned and peeked into his mother's car, one of two in the driveway.

Later police returned and let the family into the home.

Stevens said all three of her grandchildren — two boys and a girl — are teenagers. She said the oldest boy is 17 and a junior at Merrillville High. She said the middle child, a girl, was being home-schooled by her mother and the youngest boy is a student in a special education program. Stevens said her daughter worked in health care.

Stevens said she heard that something had happened at her daughter's house early Wednesday morning. She asked her oldest grandson, who was on his way to school, to go there. Stevens, who was heading to work in Chicago, also turned around and went to her daughter's house. When her oldest grandson came to the house, he was not able to get in to check on his mother, but police were there, she said.

"The two younger kids were in the house," Stevens said. "The neighbors told me they heard the first shot earlier that morning and called police."

Petruch said, "It's a tragic situation that just got out of control. We are reviewing the calls to the dispatcher and still doing interviews. It's very much still under investigation."

Police said they were initially called to the home about 7:30 a.m. for a report of a person with a gunshot wound.

Emergency personnel arrived and found the couple inside the home. They died from gunshot wounds, police said.

"My daughter has been murdered. This man was not supposed to be back in her house or in her life, period. This is my daughter's property. He was not supposed to come in here at her property trying to control anything. That's why I moved here so I could get over here quickly," Stevens said.

Rice said police still were investigating whether the couple had any history of domestic abuse. Much of the focus in the hours after the shooting was on evidence at the scene, he said.

The manners of death for Stevens and Johnson were pending Wednesday afternoon, a coroner's release said.

"That boy (Johnson) told me he was 39. I looked at him and thought he was younger, but he said he was 39. He just lied to me. I kind of figured he was younger, but I didn't know for sure," she said.

Authorities believe the case is isolated, Petruch said.

The Lake County coroner's office and Indiana State Police crime lab are assisting the investigation.

Gallery: Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail


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Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.

Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.