- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

DE QUEEN, Ark. (AP) — A mother accused of smothering her three children left notes that officials say could help determine what led to the killings, and her priest said yesterday that she had expressed “tremendous remorse.”

Paula Eleazar Mendez, 43, was in a county jail yesterday after being treated at a hospital for swallowing a toxic substance.

She had collapsed as officers arrived at her home Saturday morning in response to a telephone call from her husband 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.”

The notes found in the house may help officials better understand what led to the killings, De Queen Police Chief Richard McKinley said, though he declined to disclose their contents.

A family priest who visited Mrs. 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 yesterday 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 Samuel.

Autopsies were planned to determine whether the children had been poisoned or smothered, as their mother told police, Mr. Cooper said. The children’s faces were not covered when police found them.

Mr. Cooper said an emergency room doctor told him that Mrs. Mendez had not ingested enough of the toxic substance to kill herself. Her arraignment is expected today, Chief McKinley said.

The priest said Mrs. 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 she 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.

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