June 21, 2001
Mom held in killing 5 kids
Children may have died in tubBy MIKE GLENN, RUTH RENDON and ALAN BERNSTEIN
In a heart-rending case that may stem from postpartum depression, a Clear Lake woman who attempted suicide in 1999 was charged in the deaths of her five children Wednesday amid shocking evidence that she drowned them at home in a bathtub.
The wet bodies of her infant daughter and three sons lay on a bed, covered by a sheet. The body of her oldest child, a 7-year-old boy, was in the bathtub, Houston police said.
"I killed my kids," Andrea Pia Yates said, according to a police spokesman.
Yates, 36, later was charged with capital murder-multiple counts. If convicted, she could receive the death penalty. Yates, who is being held without bond, is to appear in court Friday.
She was arrested after using the telephone to summon police to her suburban brick home and leading them to the bodies. Looking dazed, the long-haired woman was taken to a police car.
The children apparently were killed about an hour after their father, longtime NASA Johnson Space Center computer engineer Russell E. Yates, left for work. He told police later that his wife had been treated for postpartum depression for the last two years and that on some days he had to frequently check on her well-being. The couple married in 1993.
Steve Ueckert / ChronicleAndrea Pia Yates arrives Wednesday afternoon at the Mykawa Street police station after she was arrested in the deaths of her five young children. Yates, who was charged with capital murder-multiple counts, is being held without bail.
Postpartum depression, which affects roughly 8 percent to 15 percent of mothers, usually starts about four weeks after the birth of a child and lasts for months, according to experts.
It can cause feelings of confusion, panic and hopelessness as well as changes in eating and sleeping patterns. It is usually mild and responds well to treatment, but in rare, severe cases it has led to violence.
Yates, formerly Andrea Kennedy, was treated at a psychiatric hospital in June 1999 after trying to kill herself, according to Children's Protective Services records.
Hospital workers concerned about her children called CPS, which found the children and their father living at the home of grandparents, agency spokeswoman Judy Hay said.
Hay said the hospital did not report to CPS that the mother suffered from postpartum depression.
The children killed Wednesday had biblical names: 6-month-old Mary; Luke, 2; Paul, 3; John, 5; and Noah, 7.
ChronicleThe Yates family is shown in this photograph taken in November, 2000. Back row are Andrea Yates, pregnant with daughter Mary, and her husband, Russell. Front row are John, 5, Luke, 2, Paul, 3, and Noah, 7.
The school-age children were not enrolled in local public schools, a Clear Creek Independent School District spokeswoman said.
Police offered no explanation of how Yates may have been able to drown five children without any escaping.
Whether those details come out will be left to the prosecutors assigned to the case. Police spokesman John Cannon said the department would not discuss that information.
Yates was breathing heavily when she called police and asked them to come to her house in the 900 block of Beachcomber without mentioning specifics, Cannon said.
She was wet and seemed panicked as she led an officer into the house and then to the bodies in a back bedroom, Cannon added.
About 10 police officers eventually surrounded the house with yellow crime tape, collected evidence and talked to neighbors during a rainstorm.
"A lot of these guys have kids of their own," Cannon said. "Our responding officer who went into the house has children. He was basically in shock at that point."
After Yates called police, she called her husband at work and told him he had "better come home," Cannon said. Police were already on the scene when he arrived and would not allow him into his house.
Steve Ueckert / ChronicleRussell Yates talks with his brother Randy Yates and his mother Dora Yates at his Clear Lake home today.
"Not only was it a very traumatic crime scene, but you're also talking about preserving evidence," Cannon explained.
Neighbors said the Yates couple kept to themselves but would routinely play on their wide driveway with their children. Russell Yates, they said, could be seen every evening playing basketball with the older children while the baby would sit in a walker. Andrea Yates kept to herself but was known to occasionally take the children to an area park or take the older children to a nearby pool, they said.
"They always seemed like a happy family. I wish she would have reached out. We would have all helped," neighbor Diane Bossom said.
She said the deaths have shown them the importance of befriending one another.
"The rest of the neighbors are getting together to get to know each other and help each other," she said.
The three oldest Yates boys, Noah, John and Paul, attended a party with their father across the street at the home of Raymond Rivera and Patricia Salas, whose grandson was celebrating his first birthday Saturday. They ate cake, hit a piñata and jumped inside a "moon walk," Salas said.
"They've lived here for about (two) years, and Saturday was the first time we met him and the kids," Salas said. "We would wave at them and say hi, but we really didn't know them."
Salas said the mother of the children rarely came outside in the neighborhood, which is marked by well-maintained and -landscaped houses.
On the same block of Beachcomber, a December 1989 house fire killed a man and his granddaughter and injured five other people during a gathering for Christmas.
As neighbors gathered near the Yates house Wednesday, a few people drove by and left flowers on the ground.
Dwayne Stein, father of 15-month-old twins, left flowers and five gray teddy bears under a tree in the front yard in front of the one-story house. Stein, 30, of La Porte, said he did not know the family but felt moved by the tragedy to do something.
Steve Campbell / ChronicleHouston police officers stand outside the house where five children were found dead in Clear Lake on Wednesday. The mother, Andrea Pia Yates, was said to be on medication for depression and was arrested and charged with five counts of capital murder.
"I'm tired of just watching the news and doing nothing about it," he said. "I was shocked when I heard about it, and I told my wife, `You need to watch the kids. I've got to go there.' "
Stephen Johnson, who lives next door to the Yates family, said Russell Yates' mother often came to the home.
"She'd come over in the morning and stay all day, I think to give her (Mrs. Yates) help with the kids," Johnson said.
In Houston, postpartum depression has been cited in a few recent cases of mothers killing their children. In one, a 1998 case involving a mother who strangled her 4-month-old son with rosary beads, doctors' psychiatric evaluations diagnosing her as psychotic, partly because of postpartum depression, were introduced in her trial. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Hay of CPS said almost 80 percent of children who die at the hands of their parents are under age 3. Most of the children die of neglect rather than an act like drowning, she said.
"I don't even have a record of one like that," she said of a mother physically drowning her children.
Most killings of children committed by parents are by shaking or blunt trauma, she said.
Hay also said Andrea Yates does not fit the profile of a mother who kills her children. Most mothers who kill their children are younger and generally start out as teen-age moms, she said.
Chronicle reporters Todd Ackerman, Mark Carreau, Carol Christian, Miriam Garcia, Peggy O'Hare, Dale Lezon and Janette Rodrigues contributed to this story.
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle