Four young children and their father were found slain in a home outside Atlanta early Thursday, and police say the mother — now charged with their deaths — was the one who called 911 to report the killings. Now, their family in Illinois mourns the loss.
The five were apparently stabbed to death. A fifth child, a 9-year-old girl, survived and was hospitalized with injuries described as serious, police said.
The woman was detained by police after the bodies were found inside the home in Loganville, Gwinnett County police Cpl. Michele Pihera told reporters at the scene. Police later charged 33-year-old Isabel Martinez with five counts of malice murder, five counts of murder and six counts of aggravated assault.
"She was quickly taken into custody and right now she's at Gwinnett County Police Headquarters being interviewed," Pihera said. Police have not said whether she was injured but said she was cooperating with investigators, though they were not releasing the motive for the slayings.
"Right now we believe we have everybody involved in this crime," Pihera said, adding that she does not want people in the community to think that a dangerous person is at large.
Pihera confirmed that the 911 call came from an adult woman who was inside the home. Pihera says police believe the suspect made that call.
Maria Salazar, Romero's cousin in Chicago, recalled his love of devastated and entertaining company.
"She's the same," she said of Martinez. "She just enjoyed having company over."
Salazar said the couple never lived in Chicago but their family in the area was devastated.
"She was a stay at home mom," she said. "Very devoted to her children."
Maria said Salazar became very "depressed" after the death of her father.
Pihera said the caller was speaking Spanish, which initially made it difficult for 911 operators to communicate with her. The county sheriff's office said Martinez is being held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement but didn't provide further details.
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Early indications are that a knife was used to attack the five, though a medical examiner will make the final determination about the cause of death, Pihera said.
The hospitalized girl, Diana Romero, was in serious but stable condition Thursday evening, police said in a brief update on the case.
The four children killed have been identified as Isabela Martinez, 10; Dacota Romero, 7; Dillan Romero, 4; and Axel Romero, 2. Their slain father was Martin Romero, 33, Pihera said.
Psychologists and others who study cases of mothers accused of killing their children say it's not as uncommon as people might believe. But media coverage often focuses on dramatic cases, such as Andrea Yates who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2001 drowning deaths of her five children.
Other cases get less attention, as when a woman hides or leaves a newborn or in children's deaths blamed on neglect, said Cheryl Meyer, a professor of psychology at Wright State University in Ohio.
She co-authored two books on mothers who have killed children, based on an analysis of about 1,000 cases during the 1990s. That amounts to one death every three days. If anything, the total based on media reports at the time underestimates the reality, she said.
In cases where mothers do kill intentionally, Meyer said there is often another influence, such as mental health issues, postpartum depression or the loss of a close loved one.
"We like to classify these women as pariahs, that they aren't at all like us," Meyer said. "I found that was not the case."
Police initially said in a statement that a woman inside the home called police at 4:47 a.m. Thursday to report a stabbing and officers answering the call found the five bodies inside.
Outside the single-story home with white paneling and black shutters, neighbors sat in their front yards later Thursday. Crime scene tape surrounded the home and parts of the yard in the Loganville area, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Atlanta.
Some neighbors in the small, largely Hispanic neighborhood said they had no clue anything was amiss in the home until police mobbed the scene Thursday morning. The neighbors said the Spanish-speaking family had moved to the community recently, and their children seemed happy playing with other neighborhood kids.
Victoria Nievs said the children's mother had recently suffered the death of her father.
Jim Hollandsworth is spokesman at the Path Project, a nonprofit organization that runs an after-school program that the family's children participated in. He said the family had been in the community for a few months. While the children spoke English as a second language, he said, they were fluent.
"It's awful. It's devastating. Everyone is in complete shock," he said. "The kids were engaged in what we're doing. They were happy. They were fantastic kids with a bright future."