VIENNA, Va. – The mother of three young children who were allegedly drowned by their father in a Baltimore hotel room said Thursday that her estranged husband was becoming angrier in the weeks preceding the children's deaths.
Still, Amy Castillo said she did not notice anything out of the ordinary on Saturday when she turned her children over to Mark Castillo for a regularly scheduled visitation. It turned out to be the last time she would see her children — Anthony, 6; Austin, 4; and Athena, 2.
"That particular Saturday I didn't notice any unusual behavior but it was a very brief interaction," Amy Castillo told reporters at a briefing at McLean Bible Church, where she and her children regularly attended worship services.
Mark Castillo is charged with the murder of his three children. Police say he drowned his children one by one in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room on Saturday, then called the front desk the next day to report the killings when he realized his attempt at suicide had not worked.
Amy Castillo, of Silver Spring, Md., said on Thursday that Mark Castillo was increasingly troubled in recent weeks — a judge stopped alimony payments he had been receiving from her, and he was falling behind on financial obligations.
"All around he was in trouble," she said. "I think he was getting more and more angry."
Asked about court rulings in which a judge agreed to allow Mark Castillo visitation despite documented mental health problems and even after she told the judge he had made reference to killing the kids, Amy Castillo said that "there were some people who would not listen to me."
She said she did not want to talk about the legal issues too much, but said the legal system needs a better understanding of mental-health issues.
The Castillos fought a bitter and lengthy battle in the Montgomery County courts over their divorce and custody over the three children. They were granted a limited divorce in February, and Mark Castillo retained visitation rights to the children.
Amy Castillo had asked judges to suspend those rights on at least two occasions, citing her husband's mental instability and his alleged threats. In December 2006, she wrote in a petition for a protective order that her husband told her "the worst thing he could do to me is to kill the children, not me, so I could live without them."
But on both occasions, Montgomery Circuit Court judges denied her requests, saying there wasn't enough evidence that Mark Castillo was a threat to the children. At one point, Amy Castillo was fined by the court for keeping her husband from seeing the children.
One of the judges, Joseph Dugan, declined to comment Thursday but his office referred calls to a Rockville divorce attorney who had reviewed the case at the request of the Maryland judicial branch. Judges generally cannot comment publicly on cases.
Patrick Dragga said there are several instances where the court took relatively unusual steps, such as appointing an attorney to represent the interests of the children and parent coordinator to help with communication between the Castillos.
And when Dugan denied Amy Castillo's request for a protective order granting her sole custody in January 2007, he also required that Mark Castillo attend counseling if he wanted to continue seeing his children. That order ended when the Castillos reached a custody agreement several weeks later, Dragga said.
Judges face the high bar of clear and convincing evidence of abuse or harm before they can issue a protective order, he said.
"I think these guys tried to get the expertise that would help them with this," he said of the judges. "This one didn't work, obviously."
Amy Castillo was soft-spoken and composed throughout her briefing. She said she is devastated but "it gives me peace that no one can harm them again and that they are with Jesus in heaven."
She talked about her children — Anthony was sweet and good-natured; Austin was a bit of a trouble maker and Athena was just learning to talk.
"I couldn't wait to have a girl. ... I feel like I barely got to know her," she said.