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Sheriff: Mom confessed to suffocating sons

A woman held after her two young sons were found dead in a car submerged in a South Carolina river has said she suffocated the boys beforehand, a local sheriff said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Investigators didn't believe it when a woman said her two young sons drowned after her car plunged into a river. She ultimately confessed to killing the toddlers, they say — not by dumping them in the water but by suffocating them earlier with her own hands.

Broke, jobless and berated by her mother for her failings, Shaquan Duley killed the boys, ages 2 years and 18 months, then strapped their bodies into their car seats before rolling the vehicle into the North Edisto River in a desperate cover-up attempt, authorities said Tuesday.

"She truly felt, 'If I don't have these toddlers, I can be free,'" Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said at a news conference. "I think she was fed up with her mother telling her she couldn't take care of the children, or she wasn't taking care of the children, and just wanted to be free."

Coroner Samuetta Marshall said Tuesday the older boy had bruises that suggested he had been in a struggle.

Monday's tragic scene of a car being pulled out of the water with children's bodies inside was eerily reminiscent of the 1994 case of another South Carolina mother, Susan Smith, who is serving life in prison for killing her young sons by rolling her car into a lake in the northwest part of the state.

Duley, 29, was charged with murder Tuesday. Authorities were not sure if she had an attorney.

She lived with her sons, a 5-year-old daughter and her mother in a rented home along a street filled with boarded-up, abandoned houses in Orangeburg, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Columbia, South Carolina's capital.

Out of work and estranged from the children's father, Duley relied on her mother to support her and her children, Williams said.

The sheriff said Duley told investigators her mother constantly harangued her about her failures as a mother and inability to provide for her family financially.

Williams said it seemed the responsibilities of being a mother were simply too much for Duley, who he said did not show signs of remorse during an overnight interview with authorities.

"This was a young lady that was in trouble, in trouble in more ways than she realized," Williams said. "She was in trouble and she didn't know where to turn."

Leaving her daughter at the house after a night of arguing with her mother Sunday, Duley strapped 2-year-old Devean C. Duley and 18-month-old Ja'van T. Duley into their car seats and drove the boys to an Orangeburg motel several miles from where she lived.

It was there, in a corner room tucked at the back of the rundown, one-story motel complex, that Duley suffocated the boys with her hands late that night, Williams said. On Tuesday, red evidence tape still sealed the door to that room shut.

Duley strapped the boys into their car seats and drove to a boat ramp some 10 miles away, investigators said. They said Duley rolled her car into the water, watching as it sank into the slow-moving current, then took off on foot.

Without a cell phone, Duley walked some distance down a country road, flagging down a passing motorist to call the Highway Patrol early Monday morning.

The children were still strapped in their child seats when divers found them and recovered their bodies about 45 minutes after being called to the scene.

Duley was initially charged only with leaving the scene of an accident, but Williams said deputies knew there was more to the story than she was telling. There were no skid marks on the roads leading to the water, and no obvious signs of a crash.

Duley's mother declined to speak with reporters camped outside her home Tuesday. A woman who would not identify herself came outside and asked reporters to leave, saying, "We are grieving right now. We need our privacy."

No one answered the door at the family's home late Tuesday afternoon. A bouquet of white flowers and ribbons was tied to a railing near the front door.

The state agency responsible for child welfare in South Carolina said it has had no involvement with Duley. Williams said the 5-year-old girl is now staying with Duley's mother.