The police who responded to a 911 call at a family homeless shelter in the Bronx at 7:20 p.m. Saturday were met with a chaotic scene: a naked 22-year-old woman, ranting and burning objects in the kitchen of a tiny, junk-strewn apartment.
A family friend told the officers that the woman’s children were with their father, who was not at the apartment, the police said. Emergency medical workers put the woman into an ambulance, and the police left.
The next 911 call, a few minutes later, described something far more horrifying: two unconscious young boys in the same apartment, not breathing.
The police returned and found a 3-year-old and an 11-month-old, both stabbed numerous times and submerged in the bathtub under a towel or sheet, a senior law enforcement official said.
The boys — the older was named Daishawn, the younger, Octavius — died at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Their mother, Dimone Fleming, was charged Sunday night with murdering them, the police said.
The police have not offered a clear narrative of why the officers who responded to the first call did not find the children, beyond that they were told that the children were not in the apartment. “What’s out there is the information that is out there,” said Lt. Cathy Gamble, a police spokeswoman, adding that the investigation was continuing.
The senior law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Sunday to discuss a continuing investigation, said that the apartment was smoky and messy and that the bathroom, off the galley kitchen, had such a small door it resembled the door to a closet, and that the officers might not have opened it.
The official said that according to the second 911 call, the father of one of the boys, who had entered the apartment, ran out screaming.
Ms. Fleming was in custody at St. Barnabas Hospital on Sunday night, the police said.
On Sunday, neighbors and loved ones gathered near the shelter, on Echo Place in the Mount Home neighborhood, and assembled a makeshift memorial of cardboard boxes sheltered from the rain by a plank. Beside a vase of white flowers, notes were scribbled in black marker: “Rest easy baby boys” and “Rest in peace Dashawn + Baby O.”
Octavius’s father, Columbus Canada, 31, who had found the boys’ bodies Saturday night, came to the memorial and stood quietly in the rain while others comforted him.
Ms. Fleming has a history with the city’s child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, but few details were available, the senior law enforcement official said. The agency filed a case shortly after her older son was born, alleging that she was not able to care for him, but it was not clear whether he was removed. A.C.S. said it was investigating the case but declined to offer further information.
Her father, Dwane Fleming, said that his daughter had called him on Saturday afternoon, just hours before the children were killed, to talk about problems in her relationship with Mr. Canada.
“She said he was smothering her, draining her,” Mr. Fleming, 52, said by phone from his home in Pennsylvania. “I told her, ‘It’s time for you to get a break from each other and see how you feel.’”
He said Ms. Fleming and Mr. Canada had lived together in an apartment but became homeless and entered the family shelter system. Mr. Fleming said he had heard from his sister that Ms. Fleming was suffering from postpartum depression.
Ms. Fleming had been arrested on child pornography charges in Pennsylvania in 2018. Her father said that the case stemmed from a relationship she had with an underage boy when she was 18 and that the case was inactive.
Mr. Fleming said Ms. Fleming’s mother had been planning to take the children for a while to relieve Ms. Fleming of some of the pressure. Recently, Mr. Fleming said, his daughter had started a job as a U.P.S. driver. She had also, he said, become obsessed with religion.
On Saturday night, a family friend, Michelle Rivera, 23, said she came from Queens when she heard what had happened to children she had “watched grow up.” Describing herself as “street family,” she said she had been close to Mr. Canada. Ms. Rivera was visibly upset as she described the mother’s behavior.
“She always had a problem with her significant other,” Ms. Rivera said. She said the mother exhibited a short temper around her children, for instance becoming angry when they would cry for a bottle.
“She never had patience,” Ms. Rivera said. “Everybody offered their help.”
Charlotte Obiri, 47, a neighbor, said that she knew Ms. Fleming from the neighborhood and frequently saw her with her children and their father on the street, in the store and at nearby Echo Park. Ms. Obiri was visibly in shock as she described seeing the two boys being brought down.
“They brought the baby out, and they was working on him — and then the little boy, they brought him out on a gurney, and he looked lifeless,” she said. “He was naked, and he looked lifeless. I still see the image in my head.”
Ms. Obiri and other neighbors struggled to process the gruesome scene and the fact that the children’s mother was in custody.
“I feel sick,” Ms. Obiri said. “I’ve been throwing up.”
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