Dante Welton loved to give hugs.
“He would come in and that’s the first thing he’d do when he got here,” said Jill Bahner, a Northumberland daycare operator who cared for Dante before and after school and during the summer between January and August 2015.
The news that Dante's mother, 32-year-old Nicole Welton, took his life and also her own shocked those like Bahner. There were no signs all those years ago that Nicole Welton was capable of this, Bahner said. The Weltons died inside a Lancaster County motel room Wednesday morning. It was ruled a murder-suicide by the county coroner.
Dante Welton died in his sleep, a victim of a gunshot inflicted by his mother early Wednesday.
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Dante was cared for, Bahner said. He was well-dressed, well-fed and arrived on time with his mother. Most of all, Bahner remembered the boy who loved Legos and Harry Potter as being well-mannered.
“All that stuff you look at, and that’s a reflection on the parents,” Bahner said. “I would have never guessed this. To me, she seemed like a good mom.”
Vickie Woodhead and Amber Flenner were childhood friends of Nicole Welton. They grew up together in Sullivan County. They played music together under the name Innovations 101 and formed something like a band but except for a single gig, never made it out of the garage.
“She always had a guitar,” Flenner, 33, of Carlisle, recalled.
“She was very talented and had a lovely voice,” Woodhead, 32, of Pittsburgh, said.
Flenner and Woodhead described Nicole Welton as whimsical, almost fairy-like, but having an old soul. Since learning of the tragedy, they each scoured old journals and photos. There was Nicole: at sleepovers, at school dances, at band practice. Woodhead remembered joining 4-H club just to attend summer camp with Nicole. They capsized a boat in a lake and spent what felt like an hour paddling to shore, laughing the whole way.
Flenner and Woodhead each stressed they remember Nicole Welton as a kid and had little insight about who she came to be as an adult and what drove her to murder-suicide. They said Nicole Welton left Sullivan County in 2000, their freshman year. After that, their contact was sparse save for some social media interaction later in life. They expressed sorrow for Dante’s father and family and the loved ones Nicole left behind.
Flenner referred to photos she saw of Nicole and Dante online. She said Nicole seemed so very nurturing and that when the old friends communicated, it was clear Dante was at the center of Nicole’s life.
“I can’t imagine what can drive me to do that to my child. I just can’t imagine what brings you to that point,” Flenner said.
“I don’t know if I’m the best person to speak about who she is now, but I am a good person to speak about who she was. I loved her. She was an especially lovely human. I don’t know what happened to her to make her do this,” Woodhead said.