A year after murders, family finds joy in adopting Steele children

A year after murders, family finds joy in adopting Steele children

A year after a double murder in Fitchburg, the children of one of the slain women are making a new life in Minnesota.

Ashlee Steele and her sister Kacee Tollefsbol were killed by Ashlee’s husband Andy Steele, a former Dane County Sheriff’s deputy, in their home on August 22, 2014.

Eight months later, a jury found Andy Steele guilty, but not responsible for the deaths because of advancing ALS disease, which he had been diagnosed with in the months before the killings.

“No matter what has been said and why that verdict is what it is and the situation we’re put in, I’ll never understand it or accept it,” said Brad Putnam, Ashlee and Kacee’s brother.

Since that verdict, Ashlee’s family has been trying to pick up the pieces and support the children that the young mother left behind.

Brad Putnam and his wife Rachelle have now adopted Ashlee’s children 14-year-old Jack and 11-year-old Rachel and have moved them to live with their family in Stillwater, Minnesota.

“This is exactly what she would do, absolutely,” Rachelle told News 3 on a recent visit to the family home.

“She would want this,” Brad said.  “Given everything and the situation, I know Ashlee is looking down right now and happy.”

The kids have blended right into the household, with their cousins Thomas and Anna.  They’ve brought along their pets, their smiles, and their memories of Ashlee.

“Just in little things that Rachel and I do together, I think of her,” Rachelle said.  “I think of what she would do and how she would talk to the kids or handle situations.”

Their focus now on parenting a larger family they say has helped them move past their anger and grief and find joy.

“I find it when I see the kids laughing and jumping on the trampoline together,” Rachelle said.  “I find it when I see the kids wrestling the second they get out of the car together.”

“You get to come home now to four wonderful kids and just see how happy they are,” Brad said.  “To me, that’s what make me keep going and I just love them.”

While a life of trampoline jumping by the lake may be a life most parents dream of for their kids, this certainly would not have been how Ashlee Steele envisioned her kids would get it.

Nonetheless, her family says it’s what she would have wanted for them now.

“It’s still hard sometimes, but there are more good days than bad days,” Rachelle said.  “[We’re just] trying to take the bull by the horns like Ashlee would have and work with the situation we have, and move forward and find the joy in life because that’s what she would have done.”

The family says they would like to thank everyone in Madison who supported them throughout this difficult last year.  They’ve planned “Ashlee’s Playdate” for September 27th from noon-6pm at McKee Farms Park in Fitchburg and are inviting anyone who would like to remember Ashlee and support her children.