Houston Chronicle

June 23, 2001

Father joins candlelight vigil for his 5 slain children

Houston Chronicle

Russell Yates -- father of five children killed this week, apparently by their mother -- was surrounded by several crying family members and friends outside his home Friday night.

Andrew Innerarity / Chronicle
Flowers lie beneath a tree at the home of Russell Yates, whose wife, Andrea Pia Yates, was arraigned Friday in the deaths of their five children. In the background, Russell Yates' aunt, Kathy Crisp, removes stuffed animals left in the children's memory. A vigil was held at the home Friday evening.
Dozens of neighbors gathered at the home for a solemn candlelight vigil in memory of the five dead children -- 6-month-old Mary; Luke, 2; Paul, 3; John, 5; and Noah, 7. Police say their mother, Andrea Pia Yates, has admitted to drowning them in a bathtub.

As neighbors began to light candles, Russell Yates and several family members came outside and sat in the front yard. Friends offered Yates condolences. He nodded, his eyes glassy with tears.

News media crowded around and Yates asked that they move away.

"I want to have quiet for the kids," Yates said.

The television camera crews and reporters moved back into a crowd of between 75 and 100 people across the street from the Yates home in this modest neighborhood.

Tears welling up in his eyes, Yates thanked the well-wishers before going inside his house in the 900 block of Beachcomber. "We're just overwhelmed," Yates said before the vigil. "It's just great. We just appreciate all the love and support."

Later, he asked the crowd to pray for his wife because "she is suffering."

Earlier in the day, Yates spoke to his wife at the Harris County Jail.

Andrea Yates, 36, summoned police Friday morning to her home in southeast Houston and said she had killed her children, methodically drowning them in the bathtub one at a time.

Police found the damp bodies of Mary, Luke, Paul, and John, lying on a bed and covered with a sheet. The body of Noah was found in the bathtub.

Russell Yates said after his wife's arrest that she suffered from severe depression triggered by Mary's birth and the death of her father. She had attempted suicide once after Luke's birth while suffering from apparent postpartum depression, he said.

Friday night, people held softly glowing candles and wept quietly in the family's yard near an impromptu shrine of stuffed animals, flower bouquets and potted plants brought by friends and strangers.

Some people huddled together, murmuring their disbelief at the deaths. They said the Yates family seemed like cheerful, good neighbors.

"I just feel sorry for him (Russell Yates)," Yvonne Stephens said. "I wouldn't know how to deal with such a loss. I just wish there was something I could do."

Earlier Friday, Russell Yates arrived at his home about 9:50 a.m. after spending the night elsewhere.

Yates told reporters he had been making funeral arrangements for the children. He said he watched an early morning arraignment of his wife on television.

A short time later, five Houston police detectives and district attorney investigators arrived and spent an hour at the house. Yates and his brother left about 11:15 a.m. and had not returned by late afternoon.

A funeral for the five children will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Elizabeth Quigley, who described herself as a family spokeswoman, announced Friday afternoon at a brief news conference outside the Yates home.

Quigley said the location for the funeral and the burial site had not been picked, but that the children would be buried together in the Clear Lake area.

In response to questions, she said the family is doing fine.

"We appreciate everyone's prayers, we appreciate everyone's support," Quigley said. "Under the circumstances, he (Russell Yates) is doing very well."

Throughout the day, a steady stream of people drove down the middle-class neighborhood street. Some stopped to leave flowers and other mementos at the home.

A man, who said he did not know the family, left a grouping of five balloons, each saying "We'll miss you," in honor of the children.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle