LEBANON, Pa. - She became a symbol of the gun-rights movement, but Meleanie Hain's reason for wanting to openly carry her Glock 26 everywhere she went, including her 5-year-old daughter's soccer game, was personal.

Hain, 31, worried that something awful would happen, and she wanted to protect her three children and herself.

On Wednesday night, in her house on East Grant Street, something awful did happen. Hain and her husband, Scott, 33, were found shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide.

Investigators would not say yesterday whether they had determined who pulled the trigger. But Aileen Fortna, who lives two doors down, said she saw the couple's children running down the street Wednesday night shouting, "Daddy shot Mommy."

The couple reportedly had been fighting. Scott Hain, a Berks County parole officer, left the house on Tuesday and returned on Wednesday. That afternoon, neighbors saw him mowing the lawn.

That was just hours before the Hains' children, ages 2, 6, and 10, ran screaming to a neighbor's house.

After that, people on the block described a scene that sounded more likely on a television crime show than on their leafy street of neat 11/2-story brick homes.

Police swarmed the block and evacuated neighbors. For about three hours, there appeared to be a stand-off between police and someone in the house, said Fortna, who with other neighbors watched from the end of the street.

"It looked like they were trying to talk to him, to call him," she said.

That was before officers went in and found the bodies.

The Hain children stayed overnight with a neighbor, who told Fortna yesterday morning that they had eaten breakfast and seemed OK.

Meleanie Hain's mother, Jenny Stanley, said she planned to see her grandchildren yesterday.

"I've lost my daughter and my best friend," she said through tears. "I'm devastated."

Police called Stanley about 7 p.m. Wednesday, she said, and her first thought was disbelief.

Because she did not yet know exactly what happened, she declined to discuss her son-in-law, who had a second job as a security guard at a community college. But she said that in the eight years she had known him, she had never seen him act violently.

It's been more than a year since Meleanie Hain made headlines by showing up at her daughter's preschool soccer game with her Glock semiautomatic strapped to her side, alarming other parents and leading Lebanon County Sheriff Mike DeLeo to revoke her concealed-carry permit.

Meleanie Hain sued and won and then sued the sheriff for allegedly violating her civil rights. That case is pending in federal court.

Her attorney, Matthew Weisberg, said that about four to six months ago, she told him that she and her husband had separated and that he should take her husband's name off the lawsuit.

Later, she mentioned to the lawyer that she was going to get a protective order against Scott Hain, though Weisberg said he did not know why. He said that when he spoke with her two weeks ago, she didn't mention any marital problems.

"It's a Shakespearean, ironic tragedy," Weisberg said yesterday. "The first irony is she was killed by a gun. The second irony is, she was fighting for the right to defend herself by carrying a gun, and she could not defend herself."

In the weeks after Meleanie Hain's run-in with the sheriff, the saga of the gun-toting soccer mom not only made headlines around the world but became something of a Rorschach test for both sides of the long-running debate over gun owners' rights in America.

Hain, a Hare Krishna and vegetarian who baby-sat neighbors' children in her home, said she'd received encouragement from people across the globe who saw her as taking a valiant stand for gun owners and for self-defense.

Her backers included gun-rights groups such as OpenCarry.org, a national organization founded by Mike Stollenwerk of Lancaster County, who lobbies against restrictions in other states - unlike Pennsylvania - that have sweeping bans against openly carrying weapons.

In York County, county commissioners even cited Meleanie Hain's case in reversing a long-standing ban against carrying legally permitted firearms in county parks.

A leading national gun-control advocacy group, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, entered the fray by offering free legal help to Sheriff DeLeo in the civil-rights suit.

Yesterday, the center's senior lawyer, Daniel Vice, declined to comment on the fatal shootings, except to say that statistics have shown that guns in the home are 22 times more likely to harm an occupant than an intruder.

John Pierce, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, said Meleanie Hain's killing had nothing to do with her firearm and was a domestic-violence incident.

"If there's a discussion to be had here," Pierce said, "it's about domestic violence and depression and stress on law enforcement officers."

On the organization's Web site - to which Meleanie Hain was a frequent contributor - news of her death generated more than 10,000 posts, such as this one: "RIP Melanie, you were and still are, one of my heroes."

She wasn't to Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ, who debated gun rights with Hain on a local cable program last year. He said he was annoyed to discover that she even wore her gun during the debate.

"Ms. Hain's position was that guns make people safer. I thought at the time that she was incorrect. I'm very sad to say events seem to have sadly shown that I was correct," Miller said.

Meleanie Hain's public stance on gun rights came amid a backdrop of increased political tension over the issue. In Congress and state legislatures, bills have been introduced that would allow more people to bring guns into more places. Earlier this year, President Obama signed a law that lets people carry guns in national parks, while the Senate voted to loosen gun control laws in the District of Columbia.

In the meantime, Arizona and Tennessee passed measures that allow owners to take their guns into bars.

In an Inquirer interview last year, Meleanie Hain said her interest in guns began with a car accident in which she was badly hurt. She said it made her realize that terrible things can happen so she wanted to protect herself and her family as much as she could.

She asked her husband to teach her to shoot. After she got her permit, she began taking her gun everywhere, even grocery shopping and buying children's clothes at Wal-mart.

Meleanie Hain claimed the controversy hurt her babysitting business and said she was down to just one customer. About a month ago, her mother said, she got a job as an armed security guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, the National Guard training center near Lebanon.

But the Hains' neighbors weren't as understanding, saying they feared no good would come of the young mother's enthusiasm for guns.

Donna Mishoe said she often told her teenage daughter to stay away from her bedroom window because it faced the Hains' house.

"I was so afraid," Mishoe said. "I thought something would happen, but not something like this."

Fortna said she feared an accidental shooting but never anything like this.

At the Hains' house, the front yard looked like a playground, with scooters, toy trucks, playhouses, and a baby swing hanging from a tree. In the driveway was a Toyota Camry, an NRA sticker on the window and a child's car seat in back.

Despite the tragedy, Meleanie Hain's mother said she still supported her daughter's belief in gun rights, even though she never owned a gun herself.

"Most people go through life without ever having any real passion about anything," said Stanley, who also has a grown son. "She just wasn't like that. She was a strong woman and she felt things passionately. I'm sure there are people who will say bad things about her. Shame on them."