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The New York Times
Friday, June 1, 1990
Author: CHRIS HEDGES, Special to The New York Times
A 36-year-old woman with a history of psychological problems was charged today with stabbing her four small children to death on Wednesday.
At an afternoon news conference here, police officials said they did not know what had led the woman, Maria Isabella Amaya, to kill the children, three boys and a girl who ranged in age from 3 1/2 to 11.
Police officials said Mrs. Amaya had been hospitalized for mental problems, but did not give details. She had been on medication for depression for the last eight months, they added, and had been scheduled to see a psychiatrist on the afternoon the killings took place.
Mrs. Amaya and her husband, Halley William Amaya, emigrated from El Salvador a decade ago and had lived in the small Victorian-style house at 63 Summerfield Place for the last three years. Friends and neighbors described the Amayas as a reserved couple, but said they had often heard the couple arguing.
Throughout the day, stunned residents of the working-class neighborhood milled quietly on the street outside the Amaya home. Some gazed vacantly at the house, cordoned off by a yellow police tape and surrounded by photographers and television crews, and groped for a way to explain what had happened.
‘How Could This Be?’
Isabel Perez, who said she was a longtime family friend, showed a picture of herself and Mrs. Amaya smiling at a dinner for employees of the Hilton Hotel, where Mr. Amaya had worked at the time. “I cannot believe she would kill her children with her own hands,” Ms. Perez said. “How could this be? How could we have been such friends and I never knew?” Another neighbor, Robert Concepcion, said softly, “They seemed like every other family. What went wrong?”
Mr. Amaya, who neighbors said is a maintenance worker at the Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, reported the slayings Wednesday afternoon in a telephone call to the police.
Police officials said that Mr. Amaya had become worried when his wife failed to show up for her psychiatrist’s appointment, then went home and found the bodies. Police Chief Carl Verastro refused to say where Mr. Amaya is now, but said the police were “in almost continual contact with him.”
The police said the officers who responded to Mr. Amaya’s call found the four children in various rooms with pillows or stuffed animals near their faces. The children were identified as Halley William Jr., 11; Jessica, 8; Christopher, 6, and Edward, 3 1/2. All had been stabbed with a kitchen knife.
Mrs. Amaya was badly hurt from what the police say they believe were self-inflicted stab wounds, but regained consciousness shortly after the police entered the apartment. Mrs. Amaya also had burns on her body, and police officials said they were trying to determine what had caused them.
Mrs. Amaya, who is in the intensive care unit of United Hospital here, has been arraigned on four counts of second-degree murder and will be moved to a detention center when doctors permit. Chief Verastro said the women was coherent and understood the charges against her.
Neighbors said they had never seen any indication that the Amayas beat or abused their children, but said the children were poorly disciplined.
“There was never any thought that the family was abusing the children,” said Jeanine Pirro, an assistant District Attorney in charge of cases involving domestic violence.
At the Methodist church a block away from the Amayas’ house, the Rev. Gary Betts lamented that he had failed to reach out to the family, who neighbors said were Mormons. .
“We are going to have the church open tonight,” he said, “And if people are around, we will talk. We are all in shock. We are extremely sad.”