MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Four children were stabbed to death at the Greens at Irene apartment complex, according to Shelby County Sheriff's Office.
"A 911 call was placed from the scene that said a stabbing had taken place," Shelby County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Earle Farrell said. "Deputies got there and found four small children. They checked the pulse and found none."
The apartments are located in the 4700 block of Southern Hill near Hacks Cross Road in east Shelby County around 1 p.m.
Deputies said the children's mother is in custody. The father was questioned by law enforcement, although officials said he was not in the home at the time the children were stabbed. Family members said the couple recently got married.
SCSO said all four children died from their injuries. Although the exact ages of the children have not been released, the Sheriff's Office confirmed they were all under the age of 6 years old.
"The detectives told me they were all babies," Farrell said. "I'm thinking infants or barely walking."
"One of the most difficult questions in any investigation always is 'Why?" Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham said. "It's a tragic scene and one that shocked us to our core."
Oldham said deputies are working to notify next of kin, therefore they will not release the identities of the children at this time.
"Our investigation is in a very preliminary place at this point, we will continue to work that until we can determine and be able to answer as many questions as we can," Oldham said. "We are certainly going to offer our condolences to the family and our prayers because at this point in time this community needs exactly that, we need prayer."
Oldham said there were a number of people outside when the stabbing happened.
"The investigation will likely reveal who saw what, and exactly if anyone else was in that apartment," Oldham said.
He said the child advocacy center has been notified and is on standby.
The Department of Children Services confirmed it has no previous history with the family. DCS is now involved in the case.
"It is certainly something we see across the country and there have been multiple deaths here, but I can't recall one involving young children at this young age," Oldham said.
The District Attorney arrived on the scene with the Special Victims Unit. In addition, multiple chaplains were all summoned to assist deputies and other members of the community.
"This is an egregious act of evil that has shocked us to our core, and I'll never understand how anyone could do this," Oldham said.
Residents were asked to stay inside their homes and were not allowed to leave. Some said they were "locked down" for two hours or more.
Sheriff's officials closed Irene Golf and Country Club (which is located next to the apartment complex) for the day due to the fatal stabbing.
Law enforcement officials were not the only ones left shaken by such a tragic scene. Neighbors said they can't understand why a mother would stab her children to death.
"I can't imagine what those babies do to make you do that," Trisha Johnson said. "If you're having trouble, go and say you're having trouble. Everybody gets stressed out. Kids are home from school, you don't know what to do with them, you have no money to do with them, but you don't take their lives."
However, Johnson said it is not just the children she is mourning for and feeling for in the wake of the tragedy.
"I even feel for her [the mother]," Johnson said. "I will be praying for her--her family. Those babies go back to God so that's no issue, but I will be praying for her. Something went wrong."
Johnson said she will not sleep well after the horrific events that took place in her neighborhood.
"Even if you have a dog and you come out and someone has killed your dog in the street, would you sleep good?," Johnson asked. "And that's just your dog. Someone has taken four innocent lives, and it's their mother."
"This is worst than Lester Street," she said. Johnson compared this shocking stabbing to the 2008 murders when Jessie Dotson shot and killed his brother, murdered witnesses, and then stabbed his three nephews--who later lived to testify against him.
Dr. Joel Reisman, Psychiatrist with the University of Tennessee Medical Center, said the murder of children by a mother to this extent is a rare occurrence.
"This is something that is very rare," Dr. Reisman said. "When it does occur, you hear about it on the news. The majority of the time when this occurs it is with a mother who has a form of mental illness."
Dr. Reisman said although family members and loved ones may say they did not see any signs of something like this happening, there were signs that were likely missed.
"As far as there being signs, I'm not questioning whether the family saw signs, but the issue would be whether they recognized it or not," Dr. Reisman said. "This would be a severe depression."
Dr. Reisman said severe depression would have signs such as the individual being withdrawn, isolated, perhaps very irritable, weight loss, appetite changes, and sleep disturbance.
"It's the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses, they're wearing blue-colored glasses," Dr. Reisman said. "Everything looks dark. They view as there is no hope for themselves. They may be suicidal. They think that because whatever their situation is, they think their children may be better off not being on this earth and they would be better off dead and going to heaven."
Dr. Reisman said if someone is suicidal, the best solution is to take them to the Emergency Room or contact police.
"Certainly if they feel suicidal, there is a suicidal hotline to call. The quickest way to get some help is to go to the Emergency Room because the Emergency Rooms are going to have a psychiatrist on call," Dr. Reisman said. "Also, the police have a crisis team, and they will come out and do an assessment."
Dr. Reisman said the mental health resources are limited in Memphis and that is why he recommends going to the ER if there is a mental health emergency.
"Memphis is very under-served for mental health people," Dr. Reisman said. "They call around and find out there may not be an opening for three or four months."
However, Dr. Diana Barnes, Psy.D. with the PostPartum Health Center, said postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are very different, and therefore the symptoms will be different.
According to Barnes, the symptoms of weight loss, appetite changes, and being withdrawn would apply to postpartum depression. But, it would not apply to postpartum psychosis.
"I do want to make an important distinction here," Dr. Barnes said. "Postpartum depression is a very different kind of disorder than postpartum psychosis. And of course we don't know, and a lot of information needs to come in to ascertain exactly what happen. In my 20 years, patients of postpartum depression are not likely to be involved in these types of situations. This would be more along the lines of psychosis if that is what occurred."
Barnes said the symptoms will be more pronounced.
"A woman who is in the throes of a psychotic situation might be hearing voices. Sometimes those voices are critical, demeaning, sometimes a woman might have a very false belief about what's going on around her and her environment," Dr. Barnes said.
According to Barnes, trauma--such as a history of sexual abuse or physical abuse the woman has experienced--and a history of mental illness are often associated with the individual.
"Very often in women who do commit homicide in the midst of a psychotic episode, if we look at their histories, there's certainly a history of mental illness," Dr. Barnes said. "There's also generally extensive history of trauma in the women themselves. So, these women experience their own histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, violence in the family."
Barnes said for parents concerned about how to address the recent tragedy with their own children, it is possible and something that can be done.
"It is hard when we can't shield our young children from these kinds of events," Dr. Barnes said. "First of all, children need to be reassured that children are safe and nothing bad is going to happen to them... For older children, we can talk about the fact that sometimes that mom becomes, very, very ill and that sometimes they become very ill and it changes the way they look at things."
It is still unclear if the mother has mental health issues.
Candlelight vigils for victims
What is clear, is that four children have been murdered, a community has been shaken, and a mother is in custody.
"It's not just the children who have suffered today," Farrell said.
"It's a cold day on a sweltering summer day," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said.
There will be a candlelight vigil for the children at the clubhouse at the Greens at Irene apartment complex Saturday at 6 p.m.
The New Growth in Christ Christian Center held a vigil Friday night, and will hold another on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at their church on will hold a vigil at 7550 East Shelby Drive.
"There's just a myriad of emotions. I know myself, it's just very touching," pastor Dr. Sidney Malone said. "So, when we are able to come together and rely on the love of God, the faith, support."