PHOENIX (Reuters) - Police arrested a young mother on Tuesday on suspicion of smothering her three young children to death, one at a time, in the family’s Phoenix home, then propping their bodies on a sofa as if they were napping, authorities and court records said.
Rachel Henry, 22, was booked into the Maricopa County jail on three counts of first-degree murder after admitting she had harmed the children, Phoenix Police Sergeant Mercedes Fortune said.
Court records later showed she was being held in lieu of bail of $3 million. The 30-year-old father and a 49-year-old relative identified in redacted court records as the homeowner and an aunt were also taken in for questioning.
Police initially said the cause of the children’s deaths had yet to be determined and there were no obvious signs of trauma.
A probable cause statement filed in court by police and later made public said Henry had admitted to deliberately smothering each child - two girls, aged 7 months and a year, and a 3-year-old boy - starting with the older daughter.
It was not immediately clear if Henry had an attorney.
The probable cause statement filed by police said Henry confessed to placing her hands over the nose and mouth of the victims until each stopped breathing, and she described smothering the 1-year-old while the girl’s brother looked on, yelling at his mother to stop and punching her “to no avail.”
She recounted smothering the 3-year-old next, straddling him on the floor of a bedroom as she sang to the child and he tried scratching and pinching her until he died, according to the probable cause statement. It said she then fed her 7-month-old daughter a bottle before smothering her, again while singing to the infant.
Afterward, according to the statement, Henry placed all three children “on the living room couch as if they were taking a nap” without telling either of the two other adults in the house what had happened.
Police said they went to the home on Monday night after responding to an emergency call from a relative inside and found the three children who were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police offered no possible motive for the killings, but court records cited one of the other adults in the house as having told police that Henry “had a methamphetamine addiction and had been acting strange the past several days.”
Fortune said the family recently moved to Arizona from Oklahoma.
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Frank McGurty, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman