ORANGEBURG, S.C. – The red evidence tape has been removed, yet the horror of what police say happened inside room 31 won't soon be forgotten.
A South Carolina mother is accused of suffocating her two small children in the room, then strapping them into their car seats and driving the vehicle to a boat ramp, letting it roll into a river.
"When we will see that room, we will just remember the children, how painful they must have been that night," motel owner Renuka Patel said. "How can she do that, to those children?"
Patel spoke outside the Orangeburg courtroom where 29-year-old Shaquan Duley made her first appearance before a judge Wednesday. Duley, who is unemployed, told authorities she smothered the boys after a fight with her own mother, who she said constantly badgered her about her failures as a parent and inability to financially provide for her family. She initially told investigators the boys drowned after her car plunged into a river early Monday morning but later admitted she staged the scene.
She has been remorseful, her attorney said.
"She's tearful, as anybody would be under these circumstances," defense attorney Carl B. Grant said after a brief hearing. "She's been very sad, very remorseful about all of this stuff, all of the allegations."
Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams has said Duley expressed little remorse when she confessed to killing her two young sons, ages 2 years and 18 months.
About 80 relatives, friends and curious onlookers attended Wednesday's hearing, Duley's first court appearance since she was charged with two counts of murder. Her family has largely kept silent about her arrest, but before the hearing, her sister said she think Williams' portrayal of events has been fair.
"I don't feel that he's dragging my sister through the mud," she said outside the home she shared with her mother, sister, niece and nephews. "I actually feel that he's speaking fairly compassionately on her part."
Adriane Duley said her family has been too overwhelmed by the media attention to do day-to-day tasks such as taking out the trash or getting the mail, let alone grieving and planning two funerals.
"I've had enough," she said. "My family needs their privacy."
Shaquan Duley's mother, Helen Duley, told a Columbia television station that her daughter is a loving person who became overwhelmed.
"There is a deep hurt. This is a very dark time in our lives," Helen Duley told WLTX-TV in Columbia. "I'm asking people not to judge her for what's she's done but to understand that we all have problems and we never know when things might get out of hand. That's why it's important not to keep things bottled up in you, but to let somebody know and out of this tragedy, we feel like somebody will be blessed because if you have a problem, please seek help."
A date for a bail hearing has not been set, and Grant said he would wait until then to lay out more details of his client's case.
"There's more to be said, but this is not the place to say it," said Grant, who was retained by Duley's family Tuesday and had not yet reviewed her confession. "I know the world wants to know, 'What happened with Shaquan Duley?' That will come out."
Duley lived with her sons, a 5-year-old daughter and her mother in a rented home in Orangeburg. Out of work and estranged from the children's father, she relied on her mother for support. But after the two argued Sunday night, Williams said, Duley left her daughter at the house and drove 2-year-old Devean C. Duley and 18-month-old Ja'van T. Duley to a motel several miles away.
Late that night, in a corner room tucked at the back of the rundown, one-story complex, Duley suffocated the boys with her hands, Williams said. She then strapped them back into their car seats, drove to a boat ramp some 10 miles away and rolled the car into the slow-moving water, investigators said.
Funeral services for both boys will be Friday.
Associated Press writers Jack Jones and Page Ivey in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.