MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A mother killed four of her children by cutting their throats and sheriff's deputies found a large butcher knife with what appeared to be blood on it in an apartment were the killings took place, according to court documents filed Saturday.
Shanynthia Gardner, 29, of Memphis, has been charged with four counts of first degree murder while committing aggravated child neglect in the deaths of her three daughters and one son — all under the age of 5. Their bodies were found after deputies entered her apartment in a gated community in unincorporated Shelby County on Friday.
Gardner also faces four counts of first degree murder while committing aggravated child abuse; four counts of aggravated child neglect or endangerment; and four counts of aggravated child abuse. She is being held without bond, with an arraignment scheduled Tuesday.
An affidavit filed in Shelby County court by a sheriff's detective identified the victims as 4-year-old Tallen Gardner; 3-year-old Sya Gardner; 2 year-old Sahvi Gardner; and 6-month old Yahzi Gardner. A fifth child, 7-year-old Dallen Gardner, fled the apartment and escaped the attack, the affidavit said.
Gardner spoke by phone to her husband, Martin Gardner, and acknowledged that she killed her children, the affidavit said. Attempts to reach him or relatives of the Gardners have been unsuccessful.
"This is a terrible act, an egregious act that has shocked, I believe, the community, and has shocked our staff to the core," Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham said Saturday. He did not release a suspected motive for the attack.
Deputies were called to an apartment complex in unincorporated Shelby County on Friday afternoon. When they arrived at Shanynthia Gardner's apartment, they found her with superficial cuts to her neck and wrists, the affidavit said. Deputies also found four children with "severe lacerations to the throat," the document said.
Two children were found in the living room — Yahzi was in her baby carrier and Sya was lying next to the carrier. The other two victims were in a bedroom.
The affidavit said Dallen was able to escape the apartment and run up to a man, yelling that his mother had stabbed his sister.
The man told officers that he saw Shanynthia Gardner come outside with a large knife in her hand, then re-enter the residence. Deputies found the knife in the apartment, the affidavit said.
Authorities have not divulged what circumstances they believe led to the killings. Oldham said investigators were trying to determine if Gardner has mental health problems.
Neighbor Sean Ahearn said he didn't know the family by name, but that he often saw the children playing in the front yard. They liked to pet his dog when he was taking it for a walk, he said.
"From what I saw, they were very open and friendly kids," he said. "You never imagine that this kind of thing could happen."
Resident Patricia Johnson spoke with reporters from her car. She said she wasn't allowed to leave for two hours as deputies investigated the scene.
She has a child, and said she burst into tears when she heard about the killings.
"I can't fathom that," she said. "What would babies do to make you do that?"
The state Department of Children's Service has offered its assistance to local law enforcement, but has no record of interaction with the slain children, said spokesman Rob Johnson.
"We've done an exhaustive search and we are not aware of any contact with this family," he said.