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'That wasn't her,' says father of slain children

Russell Yates: "One side of me blames her because she did it, but the other side says she didn't because that wasn't her."  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Russell Yates held back tears as he faced reporters Thursday morning and said that he still supported his wife, who has been charged with killing the couple's five children in their suburban Houston home.

"There are two tragedies," said Yates, a NASA computer engineer at nearby Johnson Space Center. "One is my children and the other is my wife."

Andrea Yates is scheduled to appear in a Houston court on Friday to face capital murder charges -- charges that could carry the death penalty if she is convicted.

Russell Yates, speaking to the media outside the couple's home in suburban Clear Lake, said his wife suffered from postpartum depression and had attempted suicide after the birth of their fourth son in 1999, but had recovered.

Postpartum depression

More than 4 in 10 mothers experience mood disorders of varying degrees after giving birth


  • "Baby blues" - The most common form, it usually lasts about two weeks


  •  Postpartum depression - Characterized by fatigue and emotional withdrawal, it can last more than a year


  •  Postpartum psychosis - The least common form, affecting no more than 0.2% of all mothers, it is marked by hallucinations and delusions

    Source: CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta

  •  More on depression symptoms, treatment

    Russell Yates, father of 5 slain children in Houston, Texas, talks about the tragedy (June 21)

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    CNN's Ed Lavandera has more on multiple murder suspect Andrea Yates (June 21)

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    Russell Yates talks to reporters Thursday about his wife's call to him moments after she killed their children
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    Ed Lavandera: Houston community copes with children's deaths  
    Mother in custody after 5 children found dead  (KPRC)

    But recently, he said, the birth of their first daughter -- the couple's fifth child -- combined with the death of her father had spurred another episode.

    "One side of me blames her because she did it, but the other side says she didn't because that wasn't her," he said. "She wasn't in her right frame of mind. She loved our kids. Anybody that knew her knew that."

    Some degree of depression occurs in well over half of all women who give birth, according to the American Medical Association. Most of those cases last for no more than a few days, but some can be very severe, requiring more intensive treatment.

    Yates: 'Afraid of her tone'

    Andrea Yates, 36, telephoned police Wednesday morning to request an officer, without saying why. When the officer arrived, she led him to a bedroom, where the bodies of four of her children lay beneath a sheet on the bed.

    The oldest child -- 7-year-old Noah -- was dead in a bathtub. The other children were 6-month old Mary and her three brothers -- Luke, 2; Paul, 3; and John, 5.

    Russell Yates said his wife phoned him shortly after he arrived at work Wednesday morning, asking him to come home. He told reporters he hung up but was "afraid of her tone" and called his mother, who had been helping his wife with the children.

    "I was thinking my oldest son was with her, but he wasn't," he said. "He was here."

    Yates said he called his wife back, and she again told him he should come home.

    "I said, 'Is anyone hurt?' She said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Who?' She said, 'The children. All of them,'" Yates said. "My heart just sank."

    Yates raced home, he said, to find the police already on the scene.

    'They always seemed like a happy family'

    Neighbors said the Yateses mostly kept to themselves, although Russell Yates was often seen playing basketball with the children in the driveway and Andrea Yates was known to take the children to a nearby park.

    "They always seemed like a happy family," neighbor Diane Bossom told the Houston Chronicle. "I wish she would have reached out. We would have all helped."

    Bittersweet home video shows the three oldest boys playing last weekend at a birthday party across the street from their home. Patricia Salas, who held the party for her 1-year-old grandson, told the Chronicle that it was the first time her family had met them.

    "They've lived here for about (two) years," she said. "We would wave at them and say hi, but we really didn't know them."

    Depression a contributor?

    Russell Yates told a neighbor at that party that his wife had stayed behind while he brought the three boys "because she was having depression from having kids."

    Andrea Yates
    Andrea Yates: "She loved our kids. Anybody that knew her knew that," her husband says.  

    The first signs of her depression may have emerged on June 18, 1999, when she reportedly attempted suicide. Records at Children's Protective Services indicate she was treated at a psychiatric hospital, and that hospital employees concerned about her children had notified CPS.

    But CPS spokeswoman Judy Hay said Russell Yates and the children were located at the home of grandparents and no action was taken. Hay said the hospital did not suggest that Yates suffered from postpartum depression.

    Some experts cautioned that postpartum depression may not have had a role in the children's deaths, warning instead that a deeper psychological illness may lie at the root of both the depression and the woman's alleged actions.

    Baylor University professor Dr. Lauren Marangell, head of the school's mood disorders research program, said that postpartum depression rarely leads to violent acts against others, although an underlying psychosis could push the patient toward more extremes.

    And J. Ray Hays, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, noted that a rational explanation for the murders was unlikely to surface.

    "It's just too bad a woman rational enough to call police and her husband after killing her children couldn't have called someone before who could have stopped her," he told the Houston Chronicle.

    CNN Correspondent Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

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