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Facing the prospect of a new year unemployed, bankrupt and with few prospects of digging themselves out in a recession, a previously unremarkable Quebec couple hatched a horrific plot to kill their three young children and then take their own lives, police say.

One media report said the couple specifically chose Jan. 1 to carry out the murder-suicide pact - a gruesome New Year's resolution to end their financial problems.

Police responding to a 911 call arrived at a nondescript white bungalow in Chicoutimi, Que., to find four bodies and a seriously injured woman.

The caller and sole survivor, Cathy Gauthier-Lachance, will be charged Monday with three counts of first-degree murder.

She is the mother of the three dead children: Joëlle, 12; Marc-Ange, 7, and Louis-Philippe, 4.

Marc Laliberté, the children's 46-year-old father, died of knife wounds.

Ms. Gauthier-Lachance, 36, is reportedly also suffering from knife wounds. Her physical injuries and mental state are such that she has not yet been questioned by police.

The Globe and Mail has learned that Mr. Laliberté's financial problems were not new. He twice filed for bankruptcy. In 2006, he had $114,708 in liabilities and $75,802 in assets, but his bankruptcy application failed because he was unable to come to terms with creditors.

At the time, the family was living in Amos, Que., and Mr. Laliberté was working as the manager of a drug store. He left that job, apparently because he was suffering from depression.

In August of last year, the family moved to Chicoutimi because Mr. Laliberté wanted to be closer to his mother who was dying of cancer.

Mr. Laliberté found work as a real estate agent with La Capitale in Saguenay but he was not very successful and earned little income.

In October of 2008, Mr. Laliberté again filed for personal bankruptcy. He listed liabilities of $84,350 and assets of only $20,301.

Richard Gagné, a spokesman for the Quebec provincial police, said the "investigation shows that there was a suicide pact."

He said there was "sufficient evidence located on the premises" to justify first-degree murder charges even without speaking to the suspect. First-degree murder charges imply that the killings were premeditated.

Ms. Gauthier-Lachance is scheduled to be remanded in court Monday morning, although it is not clear if she will enter a plea in person or by video-conference to her hospital room.

Mr. Gagné refused to reveal much detail about the crime scene, saying police did not want to compromise the investigation or the court proceedings.

He did say, however, that the bodies of the three children had no obvious signs of trauma, leading to speculation that they were poisoned.

The two adults had slit wrists and arms, injuries inflicted by themselves or upon each other.

Autopsies will be performed Monday on the four dead.

According to news media reports, Mr. Laliberté and Ms. Gauthier-Lachance left detailed suicide notes explaining their actions.

Ms. Gauthier-Lachance was a clerk at a clothing store and Mr. Laliberté was a real estate agent. She and her spouse had both lost their jobs in the past few weeks.

In November, Ms. Gauthier-Lachance took a job at the clothing store Guylen & Char'li. She lasted less than a month.

"She had problems," said Elen Gaudreault, the store's manager, adding that upon hearing of the mass murder, she immediately wondered whether her ex-employee was involved.

A former co-worker of Mr. Laliberté said that she had exactly the same reaction: "When I saw the news on TV, I spontaneously said to my husband: 'I wonder if it's Marc.' Sadly, it was him," Huguette Bolduc told Le Soleil newspaper.

She said that Mr. Laliberté was "at the end of his rope," suffering from burnout and depression and was hoping to turn his life around with a move to the Saguenay region.

The three children who were killed attended Marc Gagnon elementary school. Administrators said that when classes resume this week, counsellors and psychologists will be on hand to help other pupils deal with their feelings about the tragedy.

Chicoutimi is a borough of Saguenay, Que., located about 500 kilometres northeast of Montreal.