A woman in the middle of a divorce was found dead inside her Alabama home alongside her two children in what police described as a “horrific” murder-suicide.
Nancy Johnson, 37, and her children, 5-year-old Mia and 2-year-old Jacob, were found dead in their home in Semmes, Alabama, on Thursday. Mobile County Sheriff Paul Burch said at a Friday press conference that Johnson drowned her children before hanging herself.
“It’s definitely not a typical homicide scene,” Semmes Police Chief Todd Freind told local news outlet FOX10. “It is more brutal than normal, than what we normally see.”
An investigation into the deaths began on Thursday. Burch said Johnson’s estranged husband, who was living in a camper behind the home, called police to report that he had found his family members dead.
Investigators have ruled the husband out as a suspect, the sheriff said.
“He was cooperative, and we were able to corroborate the timeline where he said he was and where he came from, and he was truthful in those statements,” Burch told reporters, adding that he hoped “social media comments” suggesting the man was guilty would stop.
Burch said that the husband found the bodies of his children inside the home on the sofa covered with a blanket. According to the sheriff, both children had died by drowning, though the older child also had lacerations around her neck, and Johnson had hanged herself. Burch told reporters that Johnson had a history of psychiatric issues.
Uncertainty initially surrounded the case when investigators were unable to determine whether Johnson and her children had died in a murder-suicide or in a triple homicide.
According to Burch, Johnson had wounds on her wrist and neck that investigators believe she inflicted around the same time that she drowned her children. He also said she had made comments to her neighbors right before her death that if she died, they should suspect her husband.
The day before the murders, Burch told reporters, Johnson had left the neighbors with a purple suitcase that contained a note alluding to something happening to her, a small amount of cash, some clothing and her phone.
Burch told reporters that Semmes officers have responded to domestic incidents at the home in the past.
Last week, Johnson’s husband was arrested on domestic violence charges after he allegedly broke into the home and attacked Johnson in order to take the children, according to court documents cited by FOX10.
Another court document the outlet cited said the husband had claimed in June that a Department of Human Resources worker had expressed concerns about Johnson’s mental health affecting the children’s safety.
“The DHR worker informed the Defendant (the father) that they do not feel it is safe for the minor children to remain in the care and custody of the Plaintiff (the mother),” the document stated, FOX10 reported.
A couple of weeks after the June filing, the couple agreed to go to counseling, according to the court documents.
But last month, Johnson was reportedly granted a protection-from-abuse order against her husband, and he filed for divorce the next day. The parents were awarded joint custody of their children on Tuesday, and DHR was charged with providing “protective supervision,” FOX10 reported.
The judge also ordered the parents to alternate living in the camper parked in the back of the home. While one parent was in the camper, the other was supposed to be living in the house with the children.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.