Family of Debra Denison, Conn. grandma in apparent murder-suicide, asks why she had access to gun

Debra Denison, above right, is believed to have murdered her grandsons, ages two and six months, before killing herself on Feb. 26, 2013 in Preston, Conn.
Conn. State Police via CBS Connecticut

(CBS/AP) HARTFORD, Conn. - The family of two young boys killed in an apparent murder suicide - as well as Connecticut state police - said Thursday they want to know why the boys' grandmother, with a history of mental health problems, had access to the revolver used in the shootings.

The shooting has added urgency to a legislative review of access to guns that is already under way in Connecticut, where a troubled 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza gunned down 26 people, including 20 first-graders, on the other side of the state at a Newtown school on Dec. 14.

The two boys' grandmother, 47-year-old Debra Denison, was supposed to take them from day care to a birthday party Tuesday but instead drove to a nearby lake where she and the children were found shot to death after a frantic search. Police said the gun had been taken from her home, and one relative said it apparently belonged to the woman's husband.

"It was in the house, which is hard to believe," said Marcia White, a paternal great-grandmother of the boys, who said Denison's struggles with mental health were well known to the family.

State Sen. Toni Harp, a member of the General Assembly task force charged with formulating a response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said there appeared to be striking parallels to the Newtown tragedy, including the slaying of children and gun violence by people without permits to carry weapons.

She said her working group on mental health has endorsed changing the gun-permitting process to ask about people in the household with mental illness and lay out responsibilities for owners to keep guns away from them.

"The problem is, often family members have guns in their home that are not secure, and they assume people in the home will not violate their property and use them," said Harp, a Democrat. "But we hear more and more about people taking guns that don't belong to them and doing great harm with them."

Harp said there is concern about stigmatizing people with behavioral health issues, who experts say are no more violent that others, and the legislature has to walk a fine line in taking steps to prevent future tragedies.

Several family members said Denison, the boys' maternal grandmother, had long struggled with her mental health, although she seemed to be doing better in recent months. Donna Connors, a paternal grandmother, told The Day of New London that Denison had bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide in the past.

More on CrimesiderFebruary 27, 2013 - Debra Denison, Conn. grandma, killed her two grandchildren then herself, police say