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U.S. couple's 3 kids found dead in Scotland amid custody battle

Three children who were at the center of a custody battle between their American parents were found dead at their home in Scotland, police said Thursday.
Image: Forensic police gather evidence at a crime scene near Slateford Road in Edinburgh, Scotland where three children died
Police officers gather evidence at a crime scene in Edinburgh, Scotland, where three children died Wednesday.David Moir / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Three children who were at the center of a custody battle between their American parents have been found dead under "suspicious" circumstances at their home in Scotland, police said Thursday.

The children's mother was in "serious but stable" condition in hospital, police said, after apparently jumping or falling from a third-story balcony of their home in Edinburgh.

She was sedated and had been unable to speak to police, detectives said. The children's father, who BBC News said works for oil company Shell, lives in Aberdeen, about 120 miles north of Edinburgh.

Detective Superintendent Allan Jones said at a Thursday press conference that the father "has been with us since last night" and was assisting the investigation. It had been "a traumatic time for him," Jones added.

Firefighters in Edinburgh discovered the family following a report of a suspected gas explosion at around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

An eyewitness told the Edinburgh Evening News that before emergency personnel arrived, neighbors pleaded with the sobbing mother before she screamed, "my children, my children" and jumped the balcony.

The newspaper reported that the children had been stabbed and were found covered in blood.

Asked about reports of a gas explosion, police said there was minimal damage to the home and cited the utility companies' findings that the gas supply was not faulty as part of their decision to rule the deaths suspicious.

Police would not name the victims, but local newspapers identified them as eight-year-old twins Gianluca "Luca" and Augustino "Austin" Riggi and their sister Cecilia Riggi, 5.

Their mother, identified by newspapers as Theresa Riggi, believed to be originally from Bakersfield, Calif., and father Pasquale Riggi, originally from Colorado, had been locked in a bitter custody battle, the Aberdeen-based Press and Journal newspaper reported.

Parents separated
Jones said the family involved in the case has lived in the U.K. for 13 years and acknowledged that the parents were estranged.

"Clearly we are aware there was a separation between the mother and father," Jones said. "It's very early at present. We'll need to look into the background. It's clearly significant to the investigation."

The BBC reported that the couple had a civil court hearing Tuesday, but that Theresa Riggi failed to attend. She was said to have called her estranged husband, but did not say where she was.

Pasquale Riggi's attorney, David Jack, told the court, "I think there is a real emergency in this matter."

The court ordered a search for Theresa Riggi and appointed social workers to supervise the children as the parents hashed out their differences.

Jack's office would not confirm that he was assigned to the case, and said he was out of the office and unavailable Thursday. He did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Police officers checked on Theresa Riggi and her children on July 21, finding them "safe and well," said Detective Superintendent Jones said. Police appealed for information from anyone who has interacted with the family recently.

Jones said that it was "too early to say precisely what the cause of death has been for the children," but that autopsies carried out Thursday should provide more answers.

Asked about how the father was feeling, Jones said: "We have spoken to her [the injured woman's] husband; he's been with us since last night. He's with us at the moment and assisting us with the inquiry. He's bearing up very well, but it's a very tense and strained situation for him."