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The deaths Monday of three children by carbon monoxide poisoning appear to have been planned days ahead by one or both of the two adult relatives who died with them, authorities believe.
Either Sandy Ford, 56, or her son Andy Ford, 32, started buying items Nov. 8 that police found four days later inside a West Toledo garage where Mrs. Ford, Mr. Ford, and Paige Hayes, 10, Logan Hayes, 7, and Madalyn Hayes, 5, were found dead. The children were Mrs. Ford’s grandchildren and Mr. Ford’s nieces and nephew.
Authorities unfolded a scenario Friday: The adults boarded up doors and windows to the unattached garage at 5142 Harvest Lane to make sure no one could see inside. They unplugged the overhead garage doors in case someone tried to use a garage door opener. As an extra precaution, the garage-door safety latches were thrown to ensure no one would get inside without effort.
The children were given snacks and coloring books while the five sat inside the back seat of Mr. Ford’s Honda Civic. They had their pets, two dogs and a cat. One of the kids wrote a note; police did not say to whom it was addressed.
Authorities say it’s unclear what the children thought: “I can’t tell you what a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 5-year-old can comprehend,” Toledo police Capt. Wes Bombrys said.
The Hayes family is trying to cope and hopes to learn answers to lingering questions. During a Friday interview, parents Mandy and Chris Hayes focused on remembering the children and giving thanks for community support. They recalled the three siblings as happy youngsters who enjoyed horseback riding and spending time together.
“ ... Their smiles every day, their laughs, just to hear them run through the house ... that’s something that we won’t hear from those three, but I still have my two,” Mr. Hayes said, referring to two surviving sons, a 9-year-old and a 10-month-old. “And, their memory will stay with us forever.”
In 2009, Mandy Hayes, Mrs. Ford’s daughter, asked her parents to take care of the three children at their West Toledo home so the couple could give their then-6-year-old son extra attention for “behavioral problems,” authorities say.
About a month before what police are calling a murder-suicide pact between Mrs. Ford and her son, Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Hayes began to talk of the possibility of the children moving back into the Hayeses’ Sylvania Township home, Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs said. Mrs. Hayes said the timing was right to reunite the family under one roof because her son had received help and was on medication “that was making him stable.”
Mrs. Ford apparently disagreed with the children moving back in with their parents, documented in a Nov. 6 Toledo police report. At about 5:30 p.m. that day, Mrs. Hayes was returning the children to the Harvest Lane home when she and her mother began to quarrel, Chief Diggs said at the news conference.
Mrs. Ford told police she was assaulted by her daughter, requiring treatment at Flower Hospital for injuries to a shoulder and eye.
When Mrs. Ford reported the alleged assault to police, she told the officer, “that the family crisis is continuing … while the children are at the mother’s home in Sylvania Township,” Chief Diggs said. Toledo police also notified Sylvania Township of the alleged “issues.”
Police declined to discuss specifics of the son’s “behavioral issues.”
The next day, Sylvania Township police had an “interference with custody” confrontation with Mrs. Ford when she reportedly refused to return the children to Mrs. Hayes, Sylvania Township police Chief Robert Boehme said.
On Nov. 8, the children moved back into their parents’ home.
At about 10 a.m. Monday, officials from Whiteford Elementary called Mrs. Hayes to report her children were not in class. She dropped off the children at school at about 8:20 a.m., she told Sylvania Township police. Video surveillance at the school shows Mrs. Ford waiting in the school lobby and, as the children walked into the building, she escorted them back out.
A Sylvania Township police officer went to the Ford’s home repeatedly Monday, trying to make contact with anyone there. “We did everything we could,” Chief Boehme said.
Chief Boehme said Mrs. Hayes “never actually communicated that the children were in any kind of imminent danger,” and Mrs. Ford was still listed as the children’s primary emergency contact at school.
At 1:25 p.m., police issued an all-points bulletin for the children. During the day they tried to reach by phone Mrs. Ford, Andy Ford, and Mrs. Ford’s husband and the children’s grandfather, Randy Ford.
The last time the Sylvania Township officer was at the Harvest Lane home, sometime between 2:20 and 2:30 p.m., he spoke to Mr. Ford, who had just returned home from work. Not long after the officer left, Mr. Ford found “suspicious” notes from his wife, son, and grandchildren.
At 3:26 p.m., Toledo police and fire crews arrived, and firefighters broke into the garage using a sledgehammer. The five were pronounced dead at the scene.
Since news of the deaths spread across the country, offers of help have poured in. Mr. Hayes thanked John Dowling of Dowling Funeral Home for his assistance. Community members, neighbors, and strangers offered support and services, food, and kind words, the family said.
Mr. Hayes is a railroad conductor and carman. Mrs. Hayes is a stay-at-home mom. Photos of the children hang on the walls of their home. It pains her the baby won’t grow up with three of his older siblings. “That’s the hardest thing, because he’s never going to remember them,” she said.
Mr. Hayes’ brother Adam, 41, of San Diego, sat with the family during interviews Friday. He said the tragedy has yet to sink in, and called the family “rock-hard.”
Chris Hayes, added,“I see us as a family, that we have to rebuild. We have to move on slowly, and we will. It will take time.”
He and Mrs. Hayes said they haven’t seen and don’t know the contents of notes left at the scene, but both want to read them. Chris Hayes said he also wants to see police reports.
Mrs. Hayes said she hasn’t reconciled her emotions with the actions of her mother and brother. “It’s hard yet. I just can’t get past the fact that they did this,” she said. “It’s too hard right now.”
A Hayes family scholarship fund has been established for the surviving children; donations can be made at any Huntington Bank branch.