Globe and Mail

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Mother held after five children drowned

Reuters News Agency
The Globe and Mail

Houston — A 36-year-old woman suffering a long bout of postpartum depression confessed to killing her five children in their Houston home Wednesday, a crime police said could have her facing the death penalty.

The four boys and a girl, 6 months to 7 years old, appeared to have been drowned in the bathtub, they said.

The woman, Andrea Yates, has taken medication for depression since the birth of her youngest boy two years ago, but John Cannon, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department, said the role her illness might have played in the crime would not be clear until she gave a formal statement.

A television report showed the longhaired, bespectacled Ms. Yates, her shirt torn in many places, being led away in handcuffs by police.

She was not charged for the crimes, but Mr. Cannon said, "Rest assured, it is going to be carried as a capital murder case." In Texas, capital murder carries a maximum penalty of death by injection.

He said the woman called police to her home in a modest southeast Houston suburb in the shadow of NASA's Johnson Space Center in midmorning.

Ms. Yates was wet, breathing heavily and clearly disturbed when the first officer arrived on what he thought was a routine welfare check, Mr. Cannon said.

"She said to the officer, 'I killed my children,' and the officer said, 'Where are they?"' Mr. Cannon told reporters.

The woman took the officer to a bedroom, where he pulled back a sheet on a bed to reveal four still-wet bodies — Ms. Yates' sons Luke, 2, Paul, 3, and John, 5, and 6-month-old daughter Mary.

The fifth child, Noah, 7, was found in the bathtub by a second officer responding to the call, Mr. Cannon said.

Mr. Cannon said the father, whom neighbours identified as Russell Yates, arrived at the house at the same time as police.

His wife of eight years had called him at work seconds after calling police and had told him simply, "You better come home," Mr. Cannon said.

Officers refused to let him inside as they discovered the bodies inside the tan, one-storey brick home, where a dog barked and a blue bus, apparently the family's private recreational vehicle, was parked Wednesday. He was not a suspect in the crime and was co-operating with investigators, Mr. Cannon said.

Neighbour Raymond Rivera said the Yates children regularly played outside and three of them enjoyed themselves during a birthday party at his home Saturday.

Mr. Rivera said he was surprised Andrea Yates had not joined her husband and children at the party and asked his neighbour why.

"He told me his wife didn't want to come because she was depressed from having the last babies," Mr. Rivera said.

Rivera said he believed Russell Yates did computer work for NASA. Space agency spokesman James Hartsfield confirmed that a Russell Yates worked in the space shuttle program but declined to say whether he was the same man.

As detectives and medical examiners worked inside the house, from which no windows faced the street, neighbors stood outside in disbelief as heavy rain fell.

"I'm so shocked this happened so close to where I live and there are five children who will never get a chance to grow up. It's horrendous," Shelly Sampson said, weeping.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.