Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday charged a 45-year-old woman and her 19-year-old daughter with murdering five family members whose bodies were discovered in an apartment outside Philadelphia, prosecutors announced.
Three children were among the victims found dead on Monday at the apartment in Morrisville, a borough about 30 miles northeast of downtown Philadelphia, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub told reporters.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” Weintraub said overnight at a news conference outside the apartment building. “We just spoke to the family of all five of the deceased and they’re all heartbroken.”
Shana Decree, 45, was arraigned in state criminal court early on Tuesday, according to court records.
She now faces five counts of criminal homicide and one count of criminal conspiracy in the deaths of her daughter, Naa’Irah Smith, 25; her son, Damon Decree, 13; her sister, Jamilla Campbell, 42; and Campbell’s twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen, each 9 years old, Weintraub said.
Shana Decree was held without bail and did not enter a plea during the hearing, according to court records.
It was not immediately clear if she has obtained an attorney.
Dominique Decree, 19, a daughter of Shana, was also arrested in the deaths of the family members and faces the same criminal charges as her mother, Weintraub said.
Weintraub declined to immediately say how the five victims died or what the motive was for the killings.
Authorities reportedly found one missing family member, the 17-year-old son of Jamilla Campbell, safe and staying with friends in South Jersey. He reportedly ran away from the family months ago.
Worst murder in Bucks County history?
The murders were apparently discovered by chance, after workers from Bucks County Children and Youth went to the family’s home in unit S-7 of the Robert Morris Apartments on the 200 block of W. Bridge St. for an “unannounced visit,” according to the criminal complaint.
After the worker received no answer during her first visit on Saturday, they left a card – and returning on Monday, found the card untouched in the door, so they contacted an apartment maintenance worker to help them gain access to the property.
At 4:16, the worker called 911 to report finding the apartment in disarray and two disoriented women in bed, later identified as Shana and Dominique Decree. The women were transported to a hospital.
Police found the apartment filled with overturned furniture and broken glass. Inside one bedroom, they found five bodies around the room – one female under the bed, one male on top of the bed with his foot sticking through a wall into the next room, one child seated against the bed, the other two lying on the floor.
At the hospital, the mother and daughter first pinned the blame on the boyfriend of Jamilla Campbell, saying he killed everybody.
But later, mother Shana “told police that everyone at the apartment, including the 9-year-old and 13-year-old, wanted to die,” the criminal complaint states. “Shana advised that all, including the children, were talking about suicide.”
Shana and Dominique then took responsibility for the homicides, saying they killed the family members, choking some of them to death, while victim Jamilla Campbell killed two children and participated with Dominique in killing a third before Dominique choked Jamilla to death, according to the Bucks County DA’s criminal complaint.
Shana and Dominique reportedly also planned to kill themselves, but for unknown reasons failed to do so. One was unconscious and the other was seizing when first responders arrived at the home, reports say.
Bucks County prosecutors said it may take weeks to confirm the causes of death for the various victims. Law enforcement also cast doubt on the claims that the victims, including children, wanted to die.
“When you have two 9-year-olds involved, two 9-year-olds can’t make that decision, and a 13-year-old. Is it something in the adults’ minds? I don’t know, but it’s surely not in 9-year-old minds,” Morrisville Police Chief George McClay told CBS. “It’s a sad day for us. As much as I’ve seen over my career, this is the saddest case I’ve ever had.”
Shana Decree’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 5. Dominique Decree was still receiving medical care as of press-time and was arraigned by video on Tuesday.
The case is the grisliest in Bucks County since the quadruple homicide of four men in July 2017. All were allegedly lured to the home of Cosmo DiNardo to purchase marijuana where he murdered them due to a personal feud with the victims, later hiding the bodies with the aid of cousin Sean Kratz. DiNardo pleaded guilty and got four sentences of life in prison.
Additional reporting by Reuters