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'Done out of love:' Detroit Lakes couple found dead had plan to go together after each diagnosed with cancer

A close family friend says the couple had confided in her about a suicide pact due to their declining health. Both had been diagnosed with cancer.

A woman in a blue, strapless gown poses next to a man in a black suit with a tie that matches her dress.
Stacy and Steve Stearns smile in an undated photo.
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DETROIT LAKES — Steve and Stacy Stearns had just celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary last week.

This week, their family and friends are grieving.

The couple and their two dogs were found dead inside their rural Detroit Lakes home Tuesday morning, Sept. 27. The medical examiner ruled 49-year-old Stacy Stearns' death a homicide.

Forty-five-year-old Steve Stearns' death was ruled a suicide.

"They're lovable people; they are big and lovable, and when they hug you, you felt warm and secure," said Tammy Lawrence, who camped with the couple at the Shell Lake Resort.

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That love defined their marriage — love for each other that made other couples jealous.

"They said it all the time, always giving each other a kiss or a pat on the rear, always loving each other," Lawrence said.

The couple was unable to have kids. Instead, they had two four-legged fur babies.

There was Baby. And there was Goliath, who weighed 150 pounds.

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"We had a birthday party for him (Goliath), and he had his own porterhouse steak," Lawrence said.

While the couple had done a lot of celebrating recently, they were silently grieving.

"He made me promise not to say anything to anybody. Stacy did not want him to tell me, but he said, 'I can't look in your eyes and lie to you anymore, and somebody has to be able to tell people why we are going to do what we were going to do,'" Lawrence said.

Steve had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer that was too far along to treat. Stacy was battling stomach cancer.

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"They said, 'What kind of life would it be in and out of the hospital with chemo? It's not a life,'" Lawrence said.

She was one of two friends who Steve confided in with a dark secret, one the couple's family did not know.

"They've always had a pact that, 'We will go together,'" Lawrence said.

Steve told her there was no time frame, she added, and on Saturday, they talked about him living until his birthday next month. But his health rapidly declined over the next 48 hours.

Then Goliath, who had his own health issues, could no longer walk.

"It wasn't supposed to be yesterday. I knew it was coming; there was no set date," Lawrence said.

Tuesday morning, the couple posted to their shared Facebook page: "To our loved ones. We chose to leave this world as we lived in it. In love and together. Our only regret is the sorrow to our loved ones. Remember the laughter and happiness We love you. Goodbye."

The post also included a short will. Lawrence said it was posted one minute before the couple called 911.

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"He's not a murderer; this was done out love. It's what they both wanted. They wanted to go together with their dogs," she said.

Family and friends of Steve and Stacy Stearns are asking people not to remember the way they died, but to live and love life the way they did.

"Steve's words: 'We've had a good life, we've had a good run,' and they were in love, and they will love each other through eternity," Lawrence said.

The couple left their gazebo to the resort. Clothes and dishes left behind at the resort will be donated to the Detroit Lakes crisis center.

Funeral arrangements were not finalized as of Wednesday evening.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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