Houston Chronicle

June 26, 2001

Friends say Yates they knew couldn't hurt anyone

Houston Chronicle

Andrea Pia Yates is now known around the world as the Texas woman who admitted to drowning her five children in her bathtub last week. But 19 years ago, she was little-known Andrea Kennedy -- a quiet scholar-athlete who graduated second in her class at Milby High School and was captain of the swim team.

Yates Andrea Yates is shown in the 1982 Milby High School yearbook as a National Honor Society officer.
And friends say the haggard woman appearing in court in her jail-issued orange jumpsuit bears no similarity to the petite, pretty girl smiling in yearbook photos in the early 1980s.

Yates, 36, is charged with capital murder in the drownings of her children -- Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and 6-month-old Mary -- at her Clear Lake home. Friends who remember Yates from high school, though, have yet to come to grips with what they've been hearing.

"I still cannot believe this happened," said Marlene Wark, who met and became best friends with Yates in the eighth grade at Deady Middle School.

Wark and Yates were members of the National Honor Society and the Milby swim team before graduating from high school in 1982. They later attended nursing school together.

"Andrea and I had the kind of friendship where if you lose touch, you can get back together again without there being anything different," Wark said, noting that the two had not spoken in several years.

Wark and Yates were close friends for years and shared many of the same interests in high school.

"We had nearly all of our classes together," Wark said. "Neither one of us were what you'd call popular. We weren't on the drill team, (and) we didn't go to football games or dances. But we did do other things together, like sailing.

"I remember Andrea would go sailing with her parents sometimes ... and I went once with them. She would want to do things that got her outdoors."

Kyle Weygandt also was a high school classmate of Yates' and once drove her home from school.

"She lived right next to Glenbrook Golf Course," he said. "It's kind of a funny story, but she and her brother would go pick up golf balls and sell them back to the owner.

"She was a nice girl. We had several classes together. Specifically, we were in English and calculus," Weygandt said, recalling that Yates always excelled in her schoolwork.

"I remember that even though she was usually exempt from a calculus final, she would take it anyway," he said. "The only people taking those calculus finals were people who had to, but I think her dad really wanted her to achieve, and so she would come take them."

Yates' father, retired Humble High School auto-shop teacher Andrew Kennedy, died at age 83 on March 12. It was an event her husband, 36-year-old Russell Yates, said intensified the postpartum depression from which his wife suffered after the birth of their fifth child.

And though several classmates, and even Yates' husband, acknowledge that she was a quiet, private person, her old friends say the Andrea they knew would be incapable of such a horrible crime.

"We graduated together, and we were pretty good friends in school," ex-classmate Kelly Young said. "She went to Germany one summer to visit (relatives) and sent me a postcard.

"This is not the Andrea we knew. She was warm and caring. She would not have ever hurt anything, much less a child."

Young said there was a time in high school when she and others thought Yates might have had a problem with depression.

"I heard about it, and it was just passed around the school," she said. "It was one of those things that people kind of knew about but didn't talk about. We just tried to let her know that we were there for her."

Wark said she remembered no trouble with depression and said Yates was simply hardworking and dedicated.

Yates and Wark excelled in their schoolwork at Milby, which Wark said paid off when Yates graduated second in her class in 1982 and Wark finished sixth. (Because of recent flooding, the Houston Independent School District was unable to confirm Monday the Milby class rankings for that year.)

Yates and Wark also discovered a mutual interest in nursing while in high school. After graduation, the two friends enrolled in pre-nursing classes at the University of Houston. After finishing the two-year program in 1984, Wark said, she and Yates continued at the University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston.

Yates Andrea Yates is shown in the 1980 Milby yearbook as a member of the swim team.
A spokeswomen for the UT Health Science Center confirmed Monday that Andrea P. Kennedy received a bachelor's degree in nursing there in June 1986.

Upon graduation from UT-Houston, Yates continued her nursing career at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where she stayed until her first child was born in 1994.

"She handled (Noah's) birth like any other mother would," said Wark, who had a child within weeks of Yates and visited her in the hospital.

But Young said she was surprised by Yates' experience with motherhood.

"I would never in a million years have expected her to have five children, much less children with religious names," she said. "She never made any indication that she was really interested in having many kids."

Wark remembers, though, that Yates had talked to her about having children.

"She was open to having children, because we talked about it at her wedding (in 1993)," Wark said.

She noted that the wedding ceremony was a small ceremony at a nondenominational chapel.

"She was always a Christian and always had very normal values," Wark said. "And she was the sort of person who did not have any vices. She didn't lie or cheat or gossip. She was just a wonderful person."

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle