A woman who had been taking medication for postpartum depression told police that she killed her five young children Wednesday, apparently by drowning them one at a time in a bathtub in the family's home, authorities said.
An officer responding to a phone call from the woman, Andrea Yates, 36, found the still-wet bodies of four of her children on a bed, covered head to feet by a sheet, said police spokesman John Cannon. Minutes later, a second officer arrived and found a fifth child's body in a bathtub full of water, he said.
Yates called police to her home in Houston's Clear Lake neighborhood near NASA's Johnson Space Center shortly before 10 a.m. She answered the first officer's knock on the door wet and bedraggled and immediately announced, "I killed my children," Cannon said.
Cannon said the officer asked where the children were and was led to a bedroom. Found under a sheet on a bed were Mary, 6 months, and three of her brothers, Luke, 2; Paul, 3; and John, 5. The fifth child, Noah, 7, was in the bathtub.
Police gave no motive for the slayings, but the woman's husband told police she had been on medication to treat postpartum depression since Luke's birth.
Yates was taken into custody and was charged with multiple counts of murder late Wednesday.
Yates' husband of eight years, Russell Yates, said today he supports his wife because her severe depression had driven her to kill.
"One side of me blames her because she did it, but the other side of me says she didn't. . . . She wasn't in the right frame of mind," he told reporters.
Yates said his wife's father died recently, and "that really sent her spiraling down." Medication that had worked for her during an earlier bout of depression after their fourth child was born did not work as well, he said.
Russell Yates left home shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday for the Johnson Space Center, where he is a computer specialist, police said. Andrea Yates called him at work seconds after hanging up with police and told him to come home because something had happened.
When he arrived, police cars were already in front of the house. Police would not allow him inside.
Andrea Yates had been taking medication for postpartum depression for about two years, Cannon said. But he added that detectives had not determined a motive for the slayings.
Diane Treadwell-Deering, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said women suffering from postpartum depression often are plagued by "feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, changes in sleep patterns, feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings of irritability for most of the day, every day, for weeks."
Those symptoms afflict tens of thousands of new mothers annually in the United States.
In rare, "catastrophic" cases, Treadwell-Deering said, some women suffer psychotic breaks with reality, marked by delusions and hallucinations.
"I've taken care of women who have become psychotic after delivery and they think their babies are evil, or they think they need to protect their babies from the world, and they hear voices telling them that their babies would be better off dead," Treadwell-Deering said.