Original article no longer available
The Pittsburg Tribune
By Tony LaRussa, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, January 13, 2007
A relative of the Hill District woman accused of suffocating her 2-year-old daughter said Friday the mother was severely depressed following the recent birth of her fourth child and had stopped taking medication prescribed to treat the condition.
Pittsburgh police charged Ronda “Coco” Watts, 25, with criminal homicide after she allegedly suffocated her daughter, Bryonna, by placing her hand over the girl’s mouth to stop her from crying.
After the child lost consciousness, Watts placed a plastic bag over her head and hid the body in a cardboard box in a bedroom closet, police said. She then reported the child missing. Police found the body while checking the house to make sure the girl wasn’t hiding.
“She (Watts) was suffering from postpartum depression and was on medication, but she stopped taking the medication,” said Iasha Whitsey, 34, Watts’ cousin.
Whitsey spoke to reporters yesterday in front of Watts’ home in the 2000 block of Reed Street, where family and friends set up a makeshift memorial on the porch.
“She was a great mother,” Whitsey said as she sobbed. “It just makes no sense to us. We don’t know what happened.”
Medical experts say people whose depression goes untreated often exhibit irrational behavior that could lead to suicide or homicide.
Relatives said Watts had no criminal history and was not a violent person.
Watts’ lawyer, Giuseppe Rosselli, said he learned from family members that her mental state “was potentially an issue.”
“After speaking with her for about an hour, it only further convinces me that she is incapable of committing a homicide on a 2-year-old child,” Rosselli said. “The emotions were of a mother grieving, not a mother who just killed her daughter.”
Whitsey said she cared for Watts’ three other children — two girls ages 4 and 8, and a 4-month-old boy — Thursday night after they were taken from the home by the Allegheny County Division of Children, Youth and Families.
Whitsey drove Watts’ estranged husband, Bryan Watts, 26, to the house yesterday so he could pick up the children’s belongings. He will take over care of the children.
Bryan Watts declined to speak with reporters. Whitsey said he was devastated by the tragedy.
“He’s not doing too well — he not only lost one of his children, he lost his wife,” said Whitsey.
Whitsey said Ronda Watts was the third of eight children and had overcome a difficult childhood that included the death of her mother and the loss of several close relatives who had been shot to death.
“She was the rock that everybody leaned on,” Whitsey said.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy yesterday and determined that Bryonna died of asphyxiation, and ruled the death a homicide.
Dr. Mary Amanda Dew, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, said untreated depression often leads to a feelings of hopelessness, and sufferers can become dangerous to themselves or others if depression is accompanied by psychosis.
“They can’t see beyond their current situation,” Dew said. “They snap because they can’t stand how they are feeling and do something drastic.”
Tony LaRussa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.