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The life of aspiring artist Katie Pladl unraveled when she sought out her birth parents

Daniela Altimari, The Hartford Courant on

Published in News & Features

HARTFORD, Conn. -- At 18, Katie Rose Fusco had found her voice.

The high school senior from Dutchess County, N.Y., was a talented artist who had just completed a portfolio depicting the struggles faced by women throughout American history. She also led a group of female students who petitioned the Dover, N.Y., board of education to change what they deemed a sexist dress code.

But Fusco also appeared eager to move on with her life: She had plans to attend Dutchess County Community College, then SUNY Purchase before launching her career in digital advertising. When she graduated in June of 2016, her mortarboard bore the phrase "Finally Out!"

She was living with her adopted family, but like many adoptees, Fusco was curious about her biological family and tracked them down through social media. In August 2016, instead of enrolling in community college in New York, she moved to Henrico County, Va., to live with her birth parents, Steven and Alyssa Pladl, and her two young sisters.

It was a journey that ultimately led to her death last week, and the deaths of her adoptive father, her biological father and her infant son in tragedy that spanned three states.

Police said Steven Pladl began a sexual relationship with Katie, his daughter, and she gave birth to their son in September. Four months later, both Steven, 42, and Katie, 20, were arrested by police in Virginia on charges of incest and adultery.

Last week, after Katie told her father that she was severing the relationship, Steven Pladl killed their son, 7-month-old Bennett Pladl, then drove north to New York and shot and killed Katie and her adoptive father, Anthony Fusco, as they drove in New Milford, just over the New York border, according to police. He then killed himself.

"We may never understand the mindset or motives of Steven Pladl, but we do know his actions have shattered the lives of countless people,'' Lawrence Capps, chief of Knightdale, N.C., the town where Bennett Pladl's tiny body was found inside a bathroom closet.

"We pray the families affected are able to find some measure of comfort and peace as they work to cope with this senseless tragedy."

The family tragedy had a straightforward beginning. Katie was born in 1998, but Alyssa, then 17, and Steven, 22, weren't ready to become parents, Alyssa told WTVR, a Richmond television station. So they placed their infant daughter up for adoption.

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