A 22-year-old New York City mother has been charged with the murder of her sons, a toddler and an infant, she allegedly thought were possessed by the devil after police say they were found submerged in a bathtub inside her apartment at a homeless shelter with multiple stab wounds on Saturday.
The mother, Dimone Fleming, was charged at the 46th Precinct in the Bronx with two counts of murder, intention to commit murder, and murder and depraved indifference to a person younger than 11 years old, for the deaths of her sons: DeShawn Fleming, 3, and 11-month-old Octavius Canada.
Deputy Chief Louis De Ceglie of Patrol Borough Bronx told reporters at a press conference that both boys had “multiple stab wounds to the neck and torso.”
He said that officers received a call at about 7:20 p.m. on Saturday about “a female acting erratic but non-violent with no weapons” inside 246 Echo Place. They were later told “the female was trying to burn items in the kitchen area.”
When officers arrived at the scene, Fleming was found “naked inside the apartment on the third floor acting irrational.” She was taken into custody and transported to St. Barnabas Hospital for evaluation at approximately 7:50 p.m. Officers say they were informed by a family friend that Fleming’s children were with their father, but around 7:55 p.m. they received a second 911 call about “two unresponsive babies not breathing at the same location.”
When officers arrived at the scene they were unable to save the two boys who were pronounced dead at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
Octavius’ father, Columbus Canada, 31, is the one who found the boys, The New York Times reported.
A neighbor, Shannon Holyfield, told the New York Post that she saw Canada screaming and carrying the boys' bodies in a scene she described as “horrible and heartbreaking.”
“He was screaming hysterically. He was screaming, ‘Help me!’ And I came and opened my door, and I see him coming down the hall with the two boys in his arms,” Holyfield said. “They were dead. They were dead. There was blood everywhere, it covered them.”
Police told the New York Post that Canada has been cooperative with investigators. He told them he left the apartment on Friday after an argument with Fleming and slept in his car that night.
Fleming’s father, Dwane Fleming, told The New York Times that his daughter told him hours before the boys were killed that her relationship with Canada was stifling.
“She said he was smothering her, draining her,” the 52-year-old father, who lives in Pennsylvania, recalled. “I told her, ‘It’s time for you to get a break from each other and see how you feel.’”
Fleming’s father further revealed that his daughter and Canada were forced to enter the family shelter system after they lost their apartment and became homeless.
He also explained that his daughter, who was arrested on child pornography charges in Pennsylvania in 2018 because of a relationship she had with an underage boy when she was 18, was reportedly suffering from postpartum depression and had grown increasingly religious in recent months.
Hours before the murders on Saturday morning, Dimone Fleming offered a chilling public repentance “from all wrong doings and negative influence” in a post on Facebook.
“It's only one true God and I repent from all wrong doings and negative influence. Leaving all things that's no longer serves me. ... Thank you for your mercy,” she wrote.
A police source close to the ongoing investigation told the New York Post that Dimone Fleming might have thought her children were demon possessed.
“She made statements about the devil — unusual statements,” the source said.
Crystal Roebuck, a 54-year-old neighbor, who offered prayers for the family on her way to church on Sunday morning, said the deaths of the children could have been prevented.
“We overlook the signs [that] everybody in the building saw. She wasn’t right!” Roebuck said of the mother. “The signs were there! Now everybody in there is crying, ‘Boo hoo, I should have, I could have’ — they didn’t do nothing! They heard her screaming, mistreating those babies! They didn’t do nothing. They just put their earmuffs on, turned up the TV! Now they cryin’?!” she told The New York Post.
In September, another New York City mother, Erin Merd, who was struggling with her mental health and was in a custody dispute with her ex-husband and facing eviction for $10,000 in unpaid rent, was charged with the murder of her three young children who were found drowned at Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn.
In a CP report last year highlighting the growing public health crisis of suicides among new mothers, Jessica Greenhalgh, clinical director at Honey Lake Clinic in Greenville, Florida, agreed with researchers that there is a need for a better understanding of the mental health challenges that come with motherhood, even among healthcare providers.
“I think that there are a lot of expectations that are often put on mothers that we don’t always recognize. A lot of times those expectations may be unrealistic, especially if no one knows what that person is going through. But there are not necessarily many places that specify for postpartum,” she said.
“I worked in a former place where they [some staff] attempted to create a partial hospitalization program specifically for postpartum depression and the engagement was lacking. And I think part of it is a lack of understanding of what it means to have postpartum."
Greenhalgh said that when there is a "lack of recognition" or understanding, it can "lead to a feeling of being alone or being different, which also can increase the risk of worsening mental illness."
There is no evidence to suggest Merdy was receiving any kind of mental health care.
The Rev. Adriene Thorne, who serves as senior minister at First Presbyterian Church Brooklyn, and was previously executive minister of a 1,000-member church in the East Village of New York City, recalled how she experienced a brief moment of wanting to harm her child after giving birth, but because she had the right support, she overcame that episode.
“I remember being on the balcony of my apartment holding my child. And I stepped out on the balcony and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could just let her go.’ I was so freaked out that that went through my head that I just backed up into the apartment and I sat on the couch and I called my sister who is a mom of two," she recalled. "And I was just sobbing. And I said, ‘this is what happened, this is what happened. What’s wrong with me?’ Because again, the culture says, this should be the happiest moment of your life."
"I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t particularly tired. I just thought, 'something’s wrong with me that I thought that,'" Thorne continued. "And my sister said, and this was very helpful, ‘It’s normal, Adriene. We all go through this. You didn’t let her go. So it’s OK.’”
In June of last year, another young mother, Dejhanay Jarrell, who lived alone with her 1-month-old and a 2-year-old child at a building on Rockaway Parkway in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, threw them out of a second-story window before jumping out of the window herself, ABC 7 reported.
All three survived, but Jarrell was charged with attempted murder. Several other stories highlight mothers jumping to their death with young children in New York City or other instances of maternal murder-suicides around the country.
“I think what works against women is a culture that says this is the best thing that will ever happen to you without also saying, there is a bottom to this. There is a dark side," Thorne said. "There is an underbelly. There are hormones, fatigue. There’s moms not getting the help they need, lack of childcare.”