PRESTON, Conn. — A woman who picked up her two young grandsons from daycare and was supposed to bring them home so the 2-year-old could open his birthday presents instead drove them to a neighboring town and shot and killed the children and herself, state police and family members said.
The bodies of 47-year-old Debra Denison and her grandsons, 2-year-old Alton Perry and 6-month-old Ashton Perry, were found Tuesday night in a car parked near Lake of Isles in Preston, in the southeastern part of the state.
State police called the deaths a double murder-suicide Wednesday, saying they believe Denison shot the boys and herself. Autopsies were planned.
Family members said Denison, the boys' maternal grandmother, had a history of mental health problems. Marcia White, a paternal great-grandmother of the slain boys, said Denison struggled with bouts of depression but seemed to be doing well lately. The boys' parents told WVIT-TV that Denison had split personalities and WFSB-TV reported that family members described her as having bipolar disorder.
Tuesday was Alton's second birthday. Denison picked up the children from their daycare in North Stonington Tuesday afternoon and was supposed to bring them home so Alton could open his presents, family members said.
"I wanted him to come home and play with his new toys and have a good day," Alton's mother, Brenda Perry, told WVIT-TV.
The grandmother was friendly and talkative when she picked up the children and did not give any indication of distress, according to Nikki Salaun, director of the Kidds & Co. daycare center in North Stonington.
Salaun and daycare center co-owner Christine Hare said the boys' mother worked at the daycare center herself a couple years and had mentioned that the grandmother had a history of mental health troubles. They said they keep going over the pickup in their minds but there is nothing they could have done differently.
"Brenda obviously put her on the list thinking she would be OK," Hare said. "We go with the parents. We can't override their wishes. Obviously if she had come here obviously distraught, we would have intervened."
After helping Denison to her van with the children, they discovered she had taken the wrong car seat. When they could not get in touch with her by phone, they alerted the boys' mother, and police soon issued an alert.
Marcia White, a paternal great-grandmother of the slain boys, said Denison insisted on picking the children up alone even when their mother asked her to bring along another relative. White says Denison's struggles with mental health were well known and Perry told Denison the boys were too much for her to handle.
White said Perry told her that Denison asked to pick the boys up to be with Alton on his birthday.
"She was apparently very convincing," White said.
Denison also had a 13-year-year-old son and, in her suicide note, she said in part that God was watching over him on Tuesday, White said.
In Facebook postings late Tuesday and Wednesday morning, Brenda Perry thanked people for their prayers and said she loved her sons.
"God (has) two beautiful angels helping him now," the postings said. "My boys are in an amazing place we got a few great angels watching over us. love you Ashton and alton."
On Monday she wrote: "So excited making mini cupcakes and play dough for Altons day tomorrow can't believe 2 years old already. So blessed"
A man who answered the door at the couple's home on Wednesday declined to comment to an Associated Press reporter. A man at the address listed for Denison said the family is asking for people to keep their distance.
Denison was armed with a gun when she left her home Tuesday afternoon and had permission to pick up the boys from daycare, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said.
The bodies were found at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, about two hours after state police issued a statewide Amber Alert for Denison and the boys.
Salaun, the daycare center director, said both children were very happy. Alton was always laughing and smiling was nicknamed "the greeter" because he always went to see visitors at the door while other children hung back.
"He would never get close, but he would come right up and look at you like, 'Hey, look at me,'" she said. "He was definitely a personality in the program."
Denison had two convictions for minor driving offenses, said Peggy Muckle, a clerk at New London Superior Court. She was fined $35 in 2003 for following too closely and, in 2004, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving but a judge did not require her to pay the $100 fine.