CANON CITY - Authorities say a 31-year-old man has been arrested in the deaths of a mother and two young children in Canon City.

Jaacob Vanwinkle is accused of killing a 5-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and their 35-year-old mother Sunday night. Police believe he may be the mother's boyfriend.

Police Sgt. Shannon Byerly said Monday that Vanwinkle is facing preliminary charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. His first court appearance was Monday. The judge advised he get a lawyer because the charges could lead to the death penalty. Vanwinkle asked for a public defender.

Family members identified the mother as Mandy Folsom. The two young victims were identified as Mason and Marissa.

Police were responding to a report of a sexual assault from a teenage girl Sunday night when they found the bodies. Byerly said the teenage girl escaped and ran to a neighbor's home to notify police. Police say they found Vanwinkle asleep in the home. It is not known how long he had lived there.

Byerly said the teenage girl was taken to a hospital, where she was treated and released.

Vanwinkle is a registered sex offender with a lengthy criminal history. He served prison time in Indiana for crimes including child molestation and vicarious sexual gratification. In 2011, he was arrested in Indiana in connection with the death of his roommate, but he was never criminally charged.

Vanwinkle was also arrested in December for violating a protective order in Colorado.

Vanwinkle's stepfather David Run, told 9NEWS he hadn't seen Vanwinkle since Christmas.

"He just ran off," Run said. "We don't know. He just left."

"He was a good worker, hard worker," Run said. "I've got kids and grandkids that age and I can imagine what the family is going through. We're all praying for them."

"My wife is in bad health and she is not doing well over this," Run continued. "He seemed to be OK (after prison). He was hard working, like I said – he worked around here for the neighbors. I don't know what he got in to. I don't know what happened to him. But Jaacob came out here – what was it – two years ago from Indiana."

Run said Vanwinkle never mentioned his prior criminal record.

"I feel terrible, my wife feels terrible about it. You know, it just seems like a nightmare," Run said. "We'll just see where it goes. You know, just take it day by day. That's all we've got."

"My wife, I don't think she wants to see him right now either," Run said. "All I can say is we're praying for the family. And this is going to be something that's going to be really hard to get through."

The mother of Mandy Folsom, Dawn Wassel, told 9NEWS that her daughter was a great person who would help anyone.

"My daughter exemplified love. She wasn't a druggie. She was a fantastic mother, Wassel said. "She did everything for those kids. They were the love of her life. She would help anybody. I don't know [what] we're going to do without her."

She didn't know the details of her daughter's relationship with the suspect.

The formal filing of charges is expected Wednesday morning. All details in the case have been sealed.

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