EAST ST. LOUIS – An Illinois woman suspected in the shotgun deaths of her two youngest children was arrested in Missouri after allegedly hitting three pedestrians with her car near St. Louis' Gateway Arch, Illinois State Police said Thursday.
Authorities said they arrested the woman Wednesday night in St. Louis as she sat with a shotgun on a bench outside KMOV-TV after the wreck. Officers in nearby East St. Louis, Ill., responded shortly before to reports of shots fired and found the bodies of a 4-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy in a bedroom of the family's apartment, state police Capt. James Morrisey said.
Autopsies on Thursday determined that each child was shot once in the head at close range with a shotgun and died instantly of the "devastating" injuries, said Danny Haskenhoff, St. Clair County's chief deputy coroner.
The woman's 8-year-old son managed to escape unharmed and was in a relative's custody Thursday, Morrisey said.
Investigators have interviewed the 25-year-old woman, who remained jailed Thursday in St. Louis, and "have an understanding" of why the shootings happened, Morrisey said without elaborating.
A spokeswoman for the St. Clair County, Ill., prosecutor's office said no charges were expected Thursday, though they could be filed Friday.
Word of the woman's arrest sparked celebrations among a throng that gathered Wednesday night outside the apartment where the killings took place.
"This is a horrific scene inside," East St. Louis Police Capt. Bobby Cole told reporters before gesturing toward the onlookers. "Once we got word of her being in custody, they erupted in praise and clapping of the hands."
The suspect's relatives told media outlets she recently had been prescribed medication to treat depression or a mental illness.
The pedestrians injured in the St. Louis accident were taken to a hospital with injuries police termed not life-threatening.
Messages left Thursday with East St. Louis Police Chief Ranadore Foggs and detectives in his department were not immediately returned.
Illinois child welfare workers investigated the woman twice between December 2007 and March for reports of neglect but never for reports of abuse, said Kendall Marlowe, spokesman for Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services. He declined to detail the claims, citing privacy laws.
Police took the children into protective custody once, briefly, but DCFS didn't take the matter to court because the woman's relatives took steps to ensure the children's well-being, Marlowe said.
The state agency also offered the woman aid, but she refused it, Marlowe said. He described DCFS as "reaching out to the family and helping in whatever way we can," from February 2008 to April 2009.
The shooting marked the latest deadly outburst that victimized children in the struggling city of East St. Louis, evoking memories of a 2006 case in which Tiffany Hall killed pregnant best friend Jimella Tunstall, cut Tunstall's fetus from the womb and drowned Tunstall's other three children.
Those children's bodies were later found stuffed in the washer and dryer of the Tunstall family's apartment.
Hall is serving four life sentences in the killings, as well as a 60-year term linked to the fetus' death.
"Our chief and our chaplain have been out praying with everybody," Cole said Wednesday, "and we're trying to bring some resolve to the people of this area."