A Delaware mother is charged with murder after admitting to drowning her young children in the bathtub of their Wilmington row home, police said Tuesday.
Kula Pelima led officers to the bodies of 3-month-old Solomen Epelle and 5-year-old Alex Epelle Monday morning following a call to 911, Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said.
It was the second time police had visited Pelima W. 9th Street home in a matter of hours. Around 3:30 a.m. that day, she called police over fears she'd be deported by U.S. immigration officials, Tracy said.
The 30-year-old is a Liberian immigrant who has been in the United States since 1997. Her fears were apparently born in the arrest of the boys' father, Victor Epelle, who was detained earlier this month by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in York, Pennsylvania.
"Our officer at the time also did see the 5-year-old and did not see anything indicative of any type of distress in the home," Tracy said.
The officer told Pelima she wouldn't be deported by Wilmington police and pointed her toward state resources for help.
Hours later, police allege she drowned the boys. She recently gave birth to Solomen, but Alex was not her biological son.
Tracy called the deaths "unnecessary [and] horrific."
At a court arraignment Tuesday, Pelima quietly said "I'm innocent" before the judge set a $2 million bail.
Police said Pelima, who is in the United States on a visa, was "matter-of-fact" and "controlled" as she first called police around 8:30 a.m. Monday to alert them of the killings in the home the family only moved into in recent months.
Pelima told officials she first placed her infant son, Solomen, in the tub with running water filling up around him. She then assaulted the stepson, Alex, and forced him into the same tub.
She held Alex's head underwater "until he stopped moving," police said in a criminal complaint obtained by NBC10's Pamela Osborne Tuesday.
When officers arrived on the scene, Pelima led them to the bathroom where officers found the boys dead, police said.
"It's painful to do that to a child," neighbor Jennifer Baylis said.
Responding officers also encountered a strong smell of natural gas when they entered the house, police said. The gas lines were shut off and the block was evacuated for a short time.
Officials said it appeared the gas issue happened after the boys died but they were unsure the purpose of it.
Pelima was first taken into custody for questioning before being charged with murder late Monday.
Community members and school children came together to pray outside the home Monday night.
"It's one of the most tragic situations you could ever think of in life," Wilmington resident Rita Pollonais said. "No one thinks of two little children that age, to have been snuffed out, their lives been taken."
CORRECTION (5:55 p.m., Oct. 17): An earlier version misspelled the last name of the father of the two boys.