How News 5 pieced together the tragic domestic violence murder of a young mother in Mansfield

MANSFIELD, Ohio - It was a tragic scene in Mansfield on March 8: a murder-suicide, a statewide AMBER Alert and two people dead.

But by the next day, the explanations from authorities were few.

A news conference held by Mansfield Police failed to provide key answers regarding what led 20-year-old Dakota Steagall to shoot and kill his ex-girlfriend, Kaitlyn Carroll Peak, while her 7-week-old daughter was in the back seat. Police said it stemmed from a domestic violence dispute between Dakota and Kaitlyn, 22.

But the 5 On Your Side Investigative Unit uncovered so much more.

Here's how it happened:

  • March 8: 20-year-old Dakota Steagall made good on a promise he first made more than two years earlier. Kaitlyn Carroll Peak, 22, was shot repeatedly and left for dead while Steagall kidnapped her 7-week-old baby outside a Mansfield apartment complex where Steagall was living.
  • March 9: At a press conference about the incident, police released few details and didn't give any information about the history of domestic violence between the two. 
  • A week later: After being stonewalled by police, Kaitlyn’s family – desperate for answers – contacted News 5 Investigators.
  • In the months after the murder, News 5 pieced it together by scouring over hundreds of public records from Mansfield police, Richland County Prosecutor’s Office, Mansfield Municipal Court and countless other agencies — despite pushback from some officials. We even obtained normally sealed juvenile court records, scores of 911 calls that helped piece together Kaitlyn’s multiple requests for help and key courtroom audio of Kaitlyn asking for a protection order. In the 911 calls, we found even dispatchers were aware of Dakota’s criminal record. 
  • Once we obtained the protection order, we started questioning whether or not it was ever served. We were interested in this because our two-year investigation into domestic violence loopholes in Ohio found protection orders are rarely served in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In Dakota's case, we found authorities gave up after four attempts. 
  • May 5: News 5 aired our first investigation about the events that led up to Kaitlyn’s death.
  • The same day, Dakota's family contacted News 5. They did not deflect blame for the murder. Instead, they believe the system failed him and that he needed mental health treatment. 

Sitting down with both families led us to the truth: what happened in Mansfield was more than just a domestic violence dispute. Instead, two lives were destroyed, and families were left with unanswered questions. And our investigation found it all could have been prevented.  

In addition, News 5 reviewed hundreds of domestic violence cases in both Mansfield Municipal Court and Richland County Court of Common Pleas and found it was common that domestic violence abusers there went unpunished. Read more about that here.

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