In the master-planned community where they lived, the Sheers were seen as a sturdy family — squared-away churchgoers who were generous, smart, outgoing.
Pastor John Steward remembers when Lydia Sheer, 54, came to him one day at Mount of Olives Lutheran Church and asked that her two children be baptized. He was impressed when her husband stepped forward, requesting the same.
"They would have done anything for their children," Steward said.
But all that was turned upside down in a burst of violence May 26, when their oldest child — a 21-year-old known for his sunny nature and aggressive workout routine — allegedly shot them all before turning the gun on himself.
The apparent murder-suicide inside the coffee-colored home in Mission Viejo stunned neighbors and parishioners at the Sheers' church, where about 200 people came to a recent prayer service for the family of four.
But those who knew Michael Sheer said that as cheerful as he seemed to be, the bodybuilder was a deeply conflicted man.
Friends said he did not share his family's Christian faith, often stayed home when they went to church and felt his parents viewed him as a disappointment. They painted a portrait of a young man who was highly intelligent, yet dropped out of community college; someone who spent mornings exercising at the gym and dabbling in day trading rather than finding a steady job.
"My parents think I'm the biggest loser there is," nursing student Kindel Noel recalls him telling her several times at a 24 Hour Fitness in Laguna Niguel. "I don't even feel like I'm related to them."
Friends said the gym became Michael Sheer's sanctuary and that he took supplements and pre-workout stimulants as part of his regimen, and — except for once a week when he allowed himself to "pig out" at McDonald's — was careful about what he ate, counting carbs and calories.
"We never saw him not upbeat. He was charming, perfectly fit. Thinking back, I don't remember anything out of the ordinary — there was never a sign that something could be wrong" in his life, said another friend from the gym, who last talked to him days before the slayings.
"This guy was in his element here," she said.
Noel said it appeared that Sheer thought his parents were too absorbed in their church. His dad was involved in its prison ministry, which runs weekend programs several times a year for inmates. Both his mother and father taught Bible students. His 15-year-old sister, Amy, participated in youth ministry.
"He tried to keep out of his parents' way as much as possible," Noel said. "He didn't appreciate their priorities. He also thought they had a lot of personal problems they should have tried to resolve, rather than turning to the church to find a solution. He said they believed that if they prayed enough, or did enough charity work, it would go away."
Mark Sheer, 55, pressured him to find respectable work, friends said, constantly pointing out things his son did wrong.
Steward, though, said that from his vantage point, what he remembers is a loving, supportive family.
"He and his dad had a wonderful relationship," the senior pastor said.
Michael Sheer attended Saddleback College in Mission Viejo for three semesters until fall 2009, but never graduated. He was a jazz fan, followed USC sports and drove a tricked-out black Mustang, which earned him three speeding tickets.
He made a lot of his spending money from stocks and securities, mentally shifting to an East Coast time frame to keep up with the market. Friends said sometimes that while on the StairMaster, he would tell them, "I can't talk right now because I'm watching the stocks."
Noel said Sheer, who she said was "wicked smart," told her that Saddleback College hadn't been challenging enough, so he left, and later got a business degree online. He loved watching movies and was "intensely focused, trying to stay in his target heart-rate zone," according to Noel, who has two sons close to Sheer's age.
"I advised him to slow down on the caffeine pills," she said, noting that in the last few months he seemed particularly obsessed with his workouts, going to the gym two or three times daily.
Marc Vahanian, an executive coach from Studio City and a colleague of Mark Sheer, recalled the elder Sheer speaking of his son "with such pride."
"He called him a math whiz" with a good future, Vahanian said.
Steward said he had no hint of what was to come:
"This was the last thing we would ever thought would happen for this family."