DE QUEEN, Ark. – A mother accused of smothering her three young children left notes that officials say could help determine what led to the killings, and her priest said Sunday that she had expressed "tremendous remorse."
Paula Eleazar Mendez, 43, was in a county jail Sunday after being treated at a hospital for swallowing a toxic substance.
She had collapsed as officers arrived at her southwestern Arkansas home Saturday morning in response to a telephone call from the children's father in New York. Inside the home, the officers found the bodies of the children, ages 6 to 8, lying side by side on a bed, said Chris Brackett, an investigator with the Sevier County Sheriff's Office.
"I do not believe there is any dispute as to who killed these three children, and therefore who will be charged," prosecutor Tom Cooper said. "However, we have not determined at this time the particular homicide charge or punishment we will be seeking."
De Queen Police Chief Richard McKinley said investigators needed a translator to read the notes that were written in Spanish.
A family priest who visited Mendez in a hospital Saturday night described a woman experiencing profound sorrow.
"She has tremendous remorse. She is deeply sorry," the Rev. Salvador Marquez-Munoz said Sunday before entering St. Barbara Catholic Church for Mass. "She asked for our prayers and forgiveness because she is realizing how much she has hurt the community, as well."
He identified the children as 8-year-old Elvis and 6-year-old twins, Samanta and her brother Samuel.
Autopsies were planned to determine whether the children had been poisoned or smothered, as their mother told police, Cooper said. The children's faces were not covered when police found them.
Cooper said an emergency room doctor told him Mendez had not ingested enough of the toxic substance to kill herself. Her arraignment is expected Monday, McKinley said.
In the house's yard Sunday was a seven-foot-wide pile of burned papers. A page in a religion book bore the words "vamos a celebrar" — Spanish for "let's celebrate." A child's handwriting was scrawled in blue ink across some papers, and there were charred letters from a labor union in New York City.
The priest said Mendez, who moved to the United States from Mexico 10 years ago, had lived in New York until last summer, when she moved with her children to De Queen because wanted them to live in a safer environment.
He described her as a quiet, devout woman concerned about her children's welfare. She was not working, and her husband was supporting the family with a job in New York, he said. She and the children never missed Sunday services and attended religious education classes.
Mendez seemed "very loving," said M. Rocio Maya, 29, who attended the Mass and said she had known Mendez for a few months.
"Many times she showed me photos of her children," she said. "She showed me when she was pregnant with each one of them, photos of her husband, of the happy life that they had always lived."
She appeared to have few friends and "didn't go out on the street much," Maya said.
The children's father, Arturo Morales, 37, had planned to move to De Queen once the mortgage was paid on the house there, said Maya's husband, Juan Mosqueda.
Morales was to arrive in De Queen before a funeral was to be set.