KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. (AP) _ Three children were found slain in a burning van, and their father committed suicide a short distance away, authorities said.

The children, a brother and sisters ages 4 to 9, had been reported missing Saturday by their mother in Seaford, Del. Firefighters discovered the bodies Sunday after extinguishing a fire in a van in the parking lot of the First Flight airport, near the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

``We're looking at it as a triple homicide and a suicide,'' said James Gradeless, Kill Devil Hills' police chief. He wouldn't say how the children died.

``He deserved a lot worse than he did to himself. I know that for sure,'' Sheila Scheck, a resident of nearby Collington, said today as she visited the site of the fire. ``It was so close here and I've got a child of my own. I guess that's why it bothered me so much.''

Someone had placed a green basket of silk flowers at the spot of blackened pavement, with a sign saying ``three little angels from Alex, Sam and Ray.''

Delaware State Police idenitifed the dead as Douglas J. Mont, 35; his daughters Catrina, 9, and Teresa Lynn, 4; and son Daniel, 6.

Mont apparently shot himself with a pistol after he was approached by two law enforcement officers in the woods near the airport, Greenville television station WNCT reported. Authorities would not comment on the report.

Mont and his wife, Nancy, have been separated since August, Delaware state police said. The children were picked up Saturday morning for a regular visit with Mont. The mother reported them missing when they did not return by 5 p.m. as planned, said Cpl. Preston Lewis, a Delaware state police spokesman.

Ms. Mont told police her husband ``always picked them up on time and dropped them off on time,'' Lewis said. ``That's why she was so concerned when they didn't show up.''

Investigators had trouble determining who was inside the van because the bodies were burned so badly.

``It was very difficult to determine what transpired,'' Dare County spokesman Charlie Hartig said.

Police and firefighters on Sunday combed the woods around the scene for evidence, but found nothing, Walker said.