DE QUEEN, Ark. – It was a father's worried call that police say sent them to a home in western Arkansas, where the bodies of three young children were found lying side-by-side on a bed.
Police say they also discovered four cups near a container of ant poison, and a letter in Spanish. In it, the children's mother wrote that she couldn't go on without their father, authorities said.
On Monday, 43-year-old Eleazar Paula Mendez pleaded innocent to three counts of murder. Meanwhile, the children's father, who arrived from New York, said Mendez "was always a loving and caring mother."
"I love my wife, feel sorry for her and (am) confused by her behavior," Arturo Morales, 37, said in a statement read by a Catholic pastor. "I'd like to have the freedom to bury my children, and help Paula in any way possible."
Mendez told investigators she tried to kill herself on Friday by swallowing ant poison, prosecutor Tom Cooper said. She said the children saw her take it and asked her to kill them, too, he said.
"I blessed them and then I suffocated them," Mendez told investigators, according to Cooper, who said he doubted some elements of her story.
The children, 7-year-old Elvis and 5-year-old twins Samantha and Samuel, were found Saturday. The bodies were sent to a crime lab for autopsies. Their mother was jailed without bail and was on suicide watch. Prosecutors could seek the death penalty.
Cooper said he believes Mendez poisoned the children before suffocating them, but he questioned other parts of her account. Police said the four cups and a mixing glass found near the insecticide were sent to a lab for tests.
Police said Mendez moved to the small Arkansas town about a year ago to give the children a safer environment, but her husband could not make a living and returned to New York to work.
He was supposed to visit the family in Arkansas during the Christmas holiday, but he did not show up, so Mendez took the children to New York, Police Chief Richard McKinley said. During the visit, Morales asked for a divorce, he said.
In a note, Mendez indicated she didn't want the marriage to end, police said.
"She wanted to stay together. She hoped he was happy in his new endeavors and she didn't want to live without him," Cooper said.
In his statement, Morales said that for the past three months, "a number of rumors began to run that I was having an affair." But he described Mendez as "an outstanding wife."
"She was probably suffering loneliness due to the physical separation in the last months. The lady that is believed to be my girlfriend is nothing else but my landlord," Morales said.
Morales met with police Monday after traveling to Arkansas. "He's having a hard time making sense of everything," McKinley said.
Mendez, who speaks limited English, listened to an interpreter through headphones during Monday's hearing.