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CNN Live Event/Special

Father of Slain Texas Children Speaks Out

Aired June 21, 2001 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you to a different live event, this one out of Houston, Texas. Russell Yates, the father of the five young children who were allegedly killed yesterday by their own mother, allegedly suffering from postpartum depression.

Let's listen in.


RUSSELL YATES, FATHER OF FIVE SLAIN CHILDREN: ... the house for work about, you know, five or 10 until 9:00. And I got to work -- you know, it takes me about 10 or 15 minutes to get to work. I was there just about an hour, a little less than an hour, and got a call from my wife. And she said, could you come home? And I said, what's going on?

And she said, you need to come home, you know. And I -- you know, just hung up. You know, I was afraid of her tone. You know, her tone was very serious. And I left the building and called my mom here. And she -- she was planning on coming over at 10:00. You know, that's kind what we did.

My mom has been helping out over the past couple months, helping Andrea watch the kids during the day. And she'd been coming over for the better part of the day. You know, from like 10:00 to 5:00, something like that. And I'd usually leave about 8:00 or 9:00 and get back about, you know, 5:30, 6:00, something like that. She helped out during the better part of the day.

And I called her, and she hadn't left yet and, you know, then I called my wife again. And I said, what's wrong, Andrea?

And she said -- she said, you know, you need to come home. I said, is anyone hurt? She said, yes. And I said who? And she said, the children. And she said, all of them.

And I just -- I mean, my heart just sunk, you know. And I was really -- you know, I was really hoping that my oldest son -- my mom occasionally takes one of my -- she was rotating between the children to take one of them home with her, between my older three, and she -- I was thinking that my oldest son was with her, but he wasn't. He was here.

So that's about it. I came home and the police were already here and, you know, that's about it.

QUESTION: Mr. Yates, can you tell us what kind of emotions you have right now toward your wife? About your children?

YATES: Well, I really don't like the question. But I'll say, you know, I'm primarily concerned with, you know, just right now attending to my kids and, you know, making sure they get a good burial; you know, are treated good.

And my wife, I'm supportive of her. You know, it's hard because, on the one hand I know she killed our children, you know. But on the other I know that, you know, the woman here is not the woman who killed my children so...

QUESTION: We've heard a lot of the talk from the police about the issue of postpartum depression. Can you talk about that?

YATES: You want to know, like, her history of depression or...

QUESTION: Is it as serious as -- did have you any idea that it was this serious?

YATES: No. She went through postpartum depression with our fourth child and it was very serious then; and she had attempted suicide then. And they, you know, gave her medication and she really, it took a while, but she just snapped out of it, she was like herself again, all of a sudden. And that was a couple of years ago, you know.

And she's -- she was fine for -- from that time up until a few months after she had our fifth child. And she was doing fine, but her dad passed away about three months or so after she had our baby girl. And, you know, and that really just went her spiralling down. I think she was just primes, you know, for that depression -- you know, that postpartum depression. And, you know, the environment just triggered it, you know, with her dad dying.

And she -- you know, we were all hopeful that she would respond to the same medications that she did the first time, but she never responded that well. She got to about, maybe, 65 percent, you know, and sort of stayed there. She plateaued and so...

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to speak with her?

QUESTION: Have you talked to your wife?

YATES: No, I haven't; and I want to today. But I -- her family's looking into, you know, finding out where she is. And they told me today that the visiting hours might only be on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and...


YATES: Yes. I mean, I'm supportive of her. It's hard, you know, like I said, because, you know, I'm torn. One side of me, you know, blames her because, you know, she did it, you know. But the other side of me says, well, she didn't, because that wasn't her; you know, she wasn't in her right frame of mind.

And I guess her -- she has, you know, psychotic, you know, side effects with her depression that led her to do this. She wasn't -- I mean, she loved our kids. You know, and anybody that knew her knew that.

QUESTION: What kind of medication was she on at that point?

YATES: I'm going to have to go back and just kind of look through my notes and reconstruct a full history of that. But with the first depression she -- what seemed to work was a combination of Effexor, Wellbutrin and Haldol.

And what she was on as of yesterday was Effexor and Remeron; and that's all.

QUESTION: Sir, you mention...


QUESTION: ... her behavior. How would you describe her behavior when -- you know, before she took the medication, what did you notice about how she appeared to be, versus after she took her...

YATES: Describe her before or after she was depressed? I'm not sure what you mean.

QUESTION: I'm talking about the depression, yes.

YATES: OK, that's a good question...

QUESTION: What were some of the things...

YATES: One thing they told me the first time she went through this was that the symptoms vary from person to person, but that they would repeat within the same person. So the things I saw in her the first time, I recognize this time.

It's just the first time that she went through the depression it took several months for her to really become very seriously depressed. But this time it was three weeks. It was very fast. And I -- there were things that she did, you know, becoming withdrawn, more, you know, robotic in her behavior. You know, she would -- she had some nervous habits that she had, you know, particular to her.

And so I, you know, I recognized it immediately. And we treated it quickly. But, you know, what happened was just, you know, incomprehensible. I mean, I just can't -- I, you know, looking back -- you know, I struggled with it all last night. I couldn't sleep last night. I was like, no -- is there anything I could have done, you know? And, you know, look, you know, also what have I got to do? I mean, there's a lot to do.

And -- because I've got, you know, really two tragedies, like my brother pointed out. You know, I mean, one is my children, the other is my wife. I mean, you know, I want her to recover and, you know, it's going to be very hard for her to work through this, you know.

QUESTION: Sir, was there anything in the last few days that would have triggered this?

Was there anything in the last few days that would have triggered this?

YATES: Would have triggered it? You mean, like an environmental change of some sort, or...

QUESTION: Any mood change, any event. Anything that happened over the last few days.

YATES: No, not that I can think of.

QUESTION: Did all of this start with the suicide attempt...

YATES: Let me answer her.

QUESTION: Tell us about your (OFF-MIKE)

YATES: OK, that's a good question. I was thinking about that last night. What I want to do is, you know, just write up a little bit on each child, you know, the way I remember them. You know, my mom -- you know, she said yesterday she was -- just glad to have known them. You know, she spent some time down here the past couple months. And that's the way I feel. You know, precious, precious kids, so...


QUESTION: Tell us about the support you've gotten from the community. We've had so many people come by here and offer you encouragement, support, love.

YATES: Yes, you know, some people have called me and talked to me; but we've been pretty much, you know, off on our own. We kind of, you know, just retreated to a hotel last night and just tried to get some sleep. But it -- you know, I -- any help, you know, is greatly appreciated. We've gotten a couple of words, secondhand, of support being offered. And I -- you know, we appreciate that.

QUESTION: Mr. Yates, did your wife ever threaten any violence to you or to your children?

YATES: No. I mean -- no. No.

QUESTION: Did all of this really start with the suicide attempt two years ago?

YATES: That's kind of an odd question. I mean, she -- you know, to me she fully recovered from the first depression. She had a recurrence, you know, after the second child. Really, the same symptoms, the same timing. All -- both about, you know, peaking about three months after giving -- after having the baby. Our fourth son Luke, and then also the -- Mary, our little girl. And, you know, to say they're related -- I mean, the symptoms were the same. I think, you know, she was predisposed, you know, to getting this depression. And I think that that is, you know, they're related in that sense, yes.


QUESTION: Did you have to deal with child protective services?


QUESTION: ... the first child, she seemed to show some symptoms of depression or...

YATES: No. The first child?



QUESTION: Did I hear that correctly?

YATES: No, no. She didn't show any signs of depression until after our fourth child.

QUESTION: Did you have to deal with child protective services over the last couple years?

YATES: No, I don't recall that. I saw that on the news, and I don't even remember that, so...

QUESTION: Now, you said you wanted to clear up some things that were report incorrectly yesterday. Can you...

YATES: I just wanted to respond to questions. I can't remember the specifics of that. I just wanted to be clear. You know, like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said, well, she's been treated for depression for two years. Well, she hasn't been treated for depression -- you know, it's not continuously. I thought the first depression, she recovered fully.

You know, I've got some little things she did, you know, to the kids -- like, she made these little -- for Valentine's Day, she made these little hearts, and they're like look booklets, and they're like little coupons, you know, like one was good for a hug, or one was good for a game of your choice or that sort of thing. And, you know, she gave that to all the kids. And, you know, she just came up with that on her own. You know, she loved those kids.

QUESTION: Did you worry about having kids, knowing these problems were out there?

YATES: Did I worry about having kids? Well, I would say that after going through this a second time, we had talked about that -- not having any more children. You know, I talked to Andrea when she was feeling a little bit better. We had a good talk about that. And, you know, both of us really went into our marriage, you know, saying we'll just have as many kids as came along. And that's what we wanted.

But you know, her bouts of depression really put a damper on that. And, you know, we had agreed to delay that, you know, indefinitely.

QUESTION: I notice your kids have biblical names. Is the spiritual faith in your family pretty strong?

YATES: I think, with me, yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I mean, what did you guys do on the weekends? I know your children were homeschooled. What type of activities did your children partake in? What did they like to do, sir?

YATES: Well, you know, we did things any other family did, you know. I mean, played T-ball. You know, I coach a T-ball team with my oldest two kids; they played. And we used to go out here and shoot basketball -- my oldest son. I was glad, too, yesterday, you know, thinking he won the last came of HORSE we played, so I was happy about that for him, because he was real competitive, so...

QUESTION: Sir, you (OFF-MIKE) haven't made any threats against the children?

YATES: No. I said earlier, I said no.

QUESTION: Were the children homeschooled? I heard...

YATES: Yes, well...

QUESTION: ... I heard a couple things -- homeschooled, or down the street?

YATES: No, we homeschooled them, primarily Andrea. She did, you know, during the day for, like, in the morning time, maybe for a few hours. We had, you know, just a normal curriculums (sic) we followed. And I thought it was going pretty well.

You know, I'm not saying it's not stressful, but it was manageable. It's just, you know, she -- she couldn't do it while she was depressed, you know. But ordinarily she enjoyed it.

We had a unit study program for the children that was really good, you know, so she could teach them all kind of together, even the ones that weren't school-age, they'd participate. And they had a couple little workbooks they did for math, and she taught them phonics. And they -- like, my oldest two knew how to read -- Noah and John. But the others weren't really...

QUESTION: Besides the medication, did she...

YATES: Let me answer -- we'll (OFF-MIKE) QUESTION: Besides the medication, did she or you ever have any suggestions or, you know, talk amongst yourselves about, you know, what other solutions might help alleviate some of the stress she was feeling or...


QUESTION: What were some of those possibilities?

YATES: I've got them written up inside. I've got them on a board inside. I actually went with the children. We brainstormed over that for a while and wrote up all our ideas. Actually, Noah, I think, and I went through that. And we tried to come up with some ideas for some things that we could do to relieve her stress. You know, exactly, yes.

QUESTION: You still seem to be very supportive of your wife.

YATES: I am. You know, yesterday was hard for me. You know, I was like, you know, I don't understand this, why did you do this? You know, and -- but, you know, I've got to remember that, you know, she wasn't herself. I mean, she's thinking irrationally.

And, you know, if Andrea -- if you see this, I love you, you know.

QUESTION: How old is your picture here?

YATES: We took this just before Mary was born, in November...

QUESTION: Can you hold (OFF-MIKE) up?

YATES: ... in November of last year. This doesn't have Mary it because we take a family picture usually once a year. But Andrea was due late November of last year with Mary. And she had the baby November 30. But we took this probably in mid-November or maybe a week before she was born. You can't tell she was pregnant just because the kids are there.

And this is Noah and John and Paul and Luke.

QUESTION: Sir, how long have you and Andrea been married?

YATES: Eight years.

QUESTION: Did Andrea have any help with the kids (OFF-MIKE) homeschooling to taking care of them, and then dinner and that (OFF- MIKE). Did she have any help?

YATES: I helped in the evenings but, you know, she did the bulk of the work. You know, I mean, that's what -- that was like how she perceived her job. I mean, that's what she wanted to do, you know, so she did it, you know.

QUESTION: So no baby-sitter or nanny or anything like that?

YATES: Not usually.


YATES: The past few months we have, while she's been -- I mean, my mom's been in town for two months, you know, helping out.

QUESTION: Were you...

QUESTION: Why did you keep a list all this time of how your wife's moods were changing? Were you worried at some point? Is that why you kept a journal or a notebook?

YATES: Well, no, I meant more in terms of -- I think what I said was in response to the medication she was receiving. I -- you know, I have to go back and reconstruct, you know, what medicine she was on at what time because they change, you know, the prescriptions over time to, you know, to, I guess, in an attempt to try to help her get well, so...

QUESTION: Did she ever say to you at some time, I don't want to live any more, you know, after she committed -- tried to commit suicide the first time, did she ever express...

YATES: Not when she was well, no. And she's a pretty private person, you know. She doesn't say much, so...

QUESTION: Now that your wife is facing possible -- well, capital murder charges and facing the death penalty, what are your thoughts on whether you -- you know, where you stand on that?

YATES: You know, I support her. You know, that's all that I can say. I mean, as far as our relationship goes, I mean, I tried to think ahead. You know, it's going to be awkward. I don't know how we could ever -- I don't know, I don't want to think about it now.

But as far as just the short term, I want to help her through this. You know, I want to show her that I love her and support her and, you know, be there for her.

QUESTION: Will you ask prosecutors to spare her the death penalty if they choose to go that route?

YATES: Well, I suppose that's a lawyer's decision, you know. I mean, obviously, I'd say that. But I think that she -- you know, she obviously wasn't herself. And I think that'll come out, you know, that she's -- everyone that knows her knows she loves the kids, and that she's a kind, gentle person. And what you see here and what you saw yesterday, you know, is not her, so...

QUESTION: Was there any indication now that you think back about the depths of her depression in the past, that maybe there was an indication that you just weren't aware of?

YATES: I suppose. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question.

QUESTION: How long have you known your wife? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

YATES: Yes; I've known her since 1989.

QUESTION: Have you had a chance to speak with her family?

YATES: 1993.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) your first children?

YATES: In '94.


QUESTION: Have you had a chance to speak with her family?

YATES: On the phone, that's all. I'd like to go over there later. I thought about bringing my dog over there, I'm not sure if I'm going to do that or not. But the -- you know, they're having difficulty. I mean, they already -- you know, my wife already lost her dad, you know. So her mom is really stressed out from that loss, and then to lose her grandchildren and then to have her daughter, you know, on trial is really hard for her. And it's hard for her brothers, you know, and sister too, so...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) far as the defense -- she's going to be arraigned tomorrow. Will you help as far as getting an attorney?

YATES: I'm going to talk with her family about that this afternoon. That's one of those things -- like I said, we've been pretty well isolated, and I haven't been in contact with any lawyers, and I would like to work that with her family and pick an attorney that way.

QUESTION: Is she a native Texan?

YATES: Yes, she is.

QUESTION: And you met here locally?


QUESTION: What about your mom? Is she -- would she like to share anything about her observations?

Would you like to share your observations? In the past two months you've been helping out your daughter-in-law, what have you noticed about her behavior?

DORA YATES, MOTHER OF RUSSELL YATES: I prefer not to -- I prefer not to speak to that, but I would say that I agree with the things that Rusty has said, that Andrea is a beautiful person, and it's very shocking to all of us. And that's all I can say.

QUESTION: Can you give us your mother's name, please?


YATES: Dora Yates.



QUESTION: What is your brother's name?

YATES: Randy (ph).


YATES: Randall (ph).

QUESTION: Are you older or younger?

YATES: Younger.

QUESTION: Mr. Yates, anything else about your family that you would like us to know about?

YATES: No. I guess just, you know, just ask anybody that's seen us, you know. Seen us in the store or restaurants, or -- good family.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

YATES: Thank you.

KAGAN: Well, there we had a chance to hear from a man who is going through a pain and in a situation that probably very few of us can even imagine. That is Russell Yates, and it was his five children yesterday, that were killed, drowned in his own home.

Police believe, and it also sounds like Mr. Yates believes that it was his wife that did that. The children ranging in age from 6 months to 7 years old. And you heard Mr. Yates talk about the kids, talk about his family, and also talk extensively how he believes his wife has been suffering from postpartum depression.

To try to understand more about postpartum depression, we have with us our medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who also happens to be a neurologist. So you understand much more matters of the brain than most of us do.

First of all, what happens when a woman gets postpartum depression? What is happening physically in her brain?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of different theories on that. And most people believe postpartum depression is actually related to both hormonal changes -- your estrogen levels drop 95 percent after the baby is born. And estrogen has long been know to be associated with mood.

But also, as we heard in some of the interview here, environmental factors such as previous history depression, history of depression in the family. All those things are somewhat related to maybe putting you at risk for postpartum depression.

KAGAN: Yes, let's touch on a few things that Russell Yates brought up. First of all, he talked about how at some times she was almost psychotic. You say there's a difference between postpartum psychosis and postpartum depression; they're two different things.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And it's important to differentiate all three of those. There are actually three of those: baby blues, which is something that most people talk about. Most women are at risk for that, and it usually occurs a few days after the delivery and lasts for a few weeks.

That's different from postpartum depression, which affects about 10 percent of women. And it's more significant. It can be apathy towards life, not enjoying things that you used to enjoy, poor eating or sleeping habits. And maybe some of that directed at the infant.

Which is to be distinguished from postpartum psychosis, which you brought up. Affects about .1 percent -- one in 1,000 women or so. Very dramatic. It's hallucinations; it can be delusions, and often focused on the infant. Thinking of the infant dying or the infant as a demon, even. Some of these -- earliest medical literature have talked about that.

But, again, it's pretty rare and, you know, much different than the other two entities.

KAGAN: We also heard him say -- Russell Yates say -- that this isn't the first time that she had suffered some kind of depression or psychosis -- that she had had it with the birth -- after the birth of their fourth child.

So is this something, if a woman has a history of, it can get worse from pregnancy to pregnancy?

GUPTA: Great question. And it's an important point, because there's two things, really, with regards to what they called a kindling effect. Once you've had an episode of depression, a lot of psychiatrists believed that your depression can actually worsen with each subsequent episode, both in terms of how quickly it comes on, and in severity.

The second thing that's sort of interesting here, and the literature will support, is that the postpartum psychosis, while it occurs immediately after the birth of the baby, initially there's a second incidence which occurs about 18 to 24 months later; 18 to 24 months later patients have complained of relapses of the same kind of postpartum psychosis.

KAGAN: Still a lot of questions to be answered in this. Sanjay, thank you so much -- Dr. Sanjay Gupta helping us to understand a little bit more about postpartum depression.

The mother in this case, Andrea Yates, is in custody. She does face possible capital murder charges and possibly the death penalty under Texas law.