June 21, 2001
Investigator: Mother described methodical drowning of 5 kids
Slain kids' father supports wifeBy S.K. BARDWELL, MIKE GLENN and RUTH RENDON
In what a police investigator described Thursday as a "zombie-like fashion," Andrea Pia Yates told police how she methodically drowned her five children one by one in a bathtub, then carried four of the limp little bodies to a bedroom and wrapped them in a sheet.
As the 6-month-old baby, Mary, was the fourth to be drowned Wednesday, the eldest son, 7-year-old Noah, came into the bathroom.
"What's wrong with Mary?" he asked, according to a police officer who watched Yates' nightmarish videotaped statement. The officer spoke to the Houston Chronicle on condition of anonymity.
The boy then bolted, the mother recalled, only to be dragged back to the bathroom to meet the same fate as his four siblings.
As the Harris County Medical Examiner's office bore out these facts with preliminary examinations of the five children, their father, NASA engineer Russell Yates, held a news conference Thursday in front of the house.
He expressed unwavering support for his wife and said severe depression, which spiked after the birth of each child, led to the horrific killings.
Standing outside his middle-class home, Yates, 36, professed love and support for his wife of eight years -- who now could face the death penalty.
"It's hard. On one hand she killed our children," he said while clutching a family photograph taken in much happier times. "On the other hand, I know the woman here (in the picture) is not the woman who killed my children."
But Andrea Yates, also 36, is scheduled for arraignment early today on multiple counts of capital murder. The hearing will be in the old Harris County Courthouse while the new Criminal Justice Center undergoes repairs from recent flooding.
Andrea Yates told police that 2-year-old Luke was the first child to be drowned, the investigator said. Following Luke to his death were Paul, 3, then 5-year-old John.
Karen Warren / ChronicleA Houston police officer, carrying several teddy bears, walks toward the Yates home.
After each child died, Yates recounted on the videotape, she carried their bodies into a bedroom, put them on a bed and covered them with a sheet.
The former registered nurse said she then placed Mary, the youngest child, into the tub, the investigator said. That was when Noah interrupted her.
Yates told police her son ran when she rose from the tub. She recalled chasing him through the house and dragging him back to the bathroom, where she drowned him alongside his sister, the investigator said.
The infant's body was then placed on the bed along with three of her brothers. However, Yates left Noah's body in the bathtub before calling police and her husband, investigators said.
She later called her husband at the Johnson Space Center, giving him the chilling news that he needed to come home immediately.
Russell Yates asked his wife if anyone was hurt.
"Yes ... the children," he said she replied. "All of them."
Steve Ueckert / ChronicleRussell Yates pauses to look at a collection of teddy bears and flowers placed by well-wishers in the front yard of his Clear Lake home Thursday. Yates held a news conference there to express support for his wife, Andrea, and said severe depression led her to kill their five children.
Dr. Joye M. Carter, the Harris County chief medical examiner, said that while the children's bodies might be released to the family by Friday, she cautioned that autopsy results won't be known for about 10 days.
"It appears to have been drowning of all five of the young victims," she said.
"We're going to continue to do a thorough work-up. We've X-rayed all the bodies as is customary with children," she said. "We will still be awaiting the results of the toxicology tests to make sure that there was nothing given to the children."
Russell Yates said his wife suffered bouts of depression after the birth of their 2-year-old son but she had responded well to medication.
"It took a while but she snapped out of it," the NASA engineer said. "She was herself again. That was a couple of years ago. She was fine from that time on."
Russell Yates' mother, Dora, said she fully agreed with his sympathetic portrayal of his wife.
"Andrea is a beautiful person and it is very shocking to all of us," she said.
Andrea Yates' father died about three months ago, a blow that Russell Yates said sent her into a downward spiral from which she apparently never recovered.
"She was just primed for that depression," he said. "We were all hopeful she'd respond to the same medication she did the first time. She got to about 65 percent (recovery) and just stayed there. She plateaued."
Authorities said she summoned police to the home in the 900 block of Beachcomber by asking for a "welfare check," a routine request for a patrol officer to visit them.
Steve Ueckert / ChronicleAmy Giacchino, places flowers near a tree at the Clear Lake home where Andrea Pia Yates confessed to killing her five children Wednesday morning.
When Russell Yates received his wife's call at work, "My heart just sank," he said, barely holding back tears.
As homicide investigators continued canvassing the neighborhood for clues, a small mountain of flowers and stuffed animals began growing in the family's front yard.
Andrea Yates quit her job as a nurse at M.D. Anderson in 1994 to stay at home following the birth of her first child.
Russell Yates said his wife home-schooled the children as well as cared for them.
She would spend a few hours every morning going through a "normal curriculum," he said.
"I thought it was going pretty well. I'm not saying it was not stressful. It was manageable. She couldn't do it while she was depressed but ordinarily," he said.
The children's schooling included a study program that allowed all but the youngest child to participate. Their studies included math and phonics. His two oldest children, he said, could read.
Friends and acquaintances also said the mother who drowned her five children was not the Andrea Yates they knew.
Steve Ueckert / ChronicleFlowers and bears are left in the yard in the 900 block of Beachcomber by well-wishers.
"I've heard people talk about her like she was a monster. She was a totally delightful woman," said Terry Arnold, co-owner of a home-school bookstore in southeast Houston.
"They were the most beautiful children and very well-behaved. It is just really shocking," Arnold said. "She must have had incredible mental demons to have this happen. This is definitely not the woman we saw in our store."
To Arnold and business partner Joanne Juren , Andrea Yates showed no signs of depression. She last visited their store about two weeks ago.
"She was always very upbeat and when she mentioned her husband it was with great affection," Arnold said. "She was very gentle with the children. I was very annoyed when I heard someone on the radio say, 'Five kids would make anyone go crazy.'"
Andrea Yates, they said, recently had affiliated with the Sagemont Home School Support Group. Many of the members attend Sagemont Church in southeast Houston although the Yateses did not belong to the church.
A woman at the home of Andrea Yates' mother in southeast Houston, who identified herself only as the woman's sister, said the family was inside and declined to comment. Another person there, who didn't identify himself, said they were meeting with a lawyer inside the house.
Chronicle reporters Miriam Garcia and Lisa Teachey contributed to this story.
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle