A Bronx woman was in custody on Sunday after her two sons, aged 3 years and 11 months, were found fatally stabbed in the neck and torso in a bathtub in a family shelter on Saturday night, the police said.
The woman, who was found naked, ranting and setting fires in the apartment, was expected to be charged in their deaths, a senior law enforcement official said.
She was identified as Dimone Fleming, 22, by the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Police did not release the names of the boys.
The police were first summoned at 7:20 p.m. to the family shelter on Echo Place in the Mount Hope neighborhood in response to a 911 call about an emotionally disturbed person. But they left without finding the children, who were in the bathtub, covered with a sheet or towel, the police said. A second call half an hour later about the children brought the police back to the scene, where the bodies were discovered.
The law enforcement official gave the following account: When the police first arrived, they were confronted with a chaotic scene, with Ms. Fleming burning objects on the stove and belongings strewn everywhere.
The door to the bathroom was off the tiny kitchen and resembled a door to a closet. The police may not have tried the door. They were also told by a shelter employee — incorrectly, it turned out — that the boys were with their father somewhere off the premises. The police left around 7:50 p.m. after an ambulance took Ms. Fleming to St. Barnabas Hospital, where she remained on Sunday.
Deputy Police Chief Louis De Ceglie said that the second 911 call came around 7:55 p.m.: a report that two babies at the same location were not breathing.
Officers returned to the apartment and found the two children with stab wounds, he said. They were taken to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital but died of their injuries, he said.
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 had been close to the children’s father, Columbus 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.”
On Sunday, neighbors and loved ones assembled a makeshift memorial of cardboard boxes sheltered from the rain by a plank outside the building. Beside a vase of white flowers, notes were scribbled in black marker: “Rest easy baby boys” and “Rest in peace Dashawn + Baby O.”
Mr. Canada, 31, came to the memorial and stood quietly in the rain, being comforted by some of the other people there.
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 that she was not able to care for him, but it was not clear whether he was ultimately removed. A.C.S. said it was investigating the case but declined to offer further information.
Someone with the same name and birth date as Ms. Fleming had been arrested on child pornography charges in Pennsylvania in 2018, court records show. The disposition of the case was unclear.
In recent years, New York City has annually recorded about a dozen homicides of children under age 10 that are classified as domestic, according to police statistics. Killings of multiple children have been rare. But last year, a Queens woman was charged with murdering her infant twins, and in September a mother was charged with drowning her three children in the Coney Island surf.
Charlotte Obiri, 47, a neighbor, said Saturday that she knew Ms. Fleming from around 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.”
Liset Cruz and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachycontributed research.