Mom charged with murder after throwing children into river


by Staff Associated Press

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 25 at 12:29 PM

Video: Girl who went off bridge Ore. lucky to be alive

PORTLAND, Ore. - A Tualatin "suburban mom," accused in the drowning death of her 4-year-old son and attempted murder of her 7-year-old daughter, was arraigned on the charges Tuesday afternoon.

Amanda Jo Stott-Smith was arrested after her children plummeted 75 feet from Sellwood Bridge into the Willamette River early Saturday.

Appearing in a Multnomah County courtroom Tuesday accompanied by extra security, she deferred entering a plea. Stott-Smith was ordered held on no bail and the next court date was set for June 3.

A couple who lived near the bridge fished the children out of the river around 2 a.m. Eldon Jay Rebhan Smith, 4, was dead. His big sister Trinity was seriously injured and taken to the hospital.

On Tuesday, a Washington County judge ordered her taken into custody by the state until a safety plan could be worked up with her father, Jason A. Smith.

Stott-Smith was taken into custody about five hours later. No motive has been revealed.

Troubled past, family turmoil

Court records show that Stott-Smith filed for separation from her husband, Jason A. Smith, in March. They had joint custody of the children.

Neighbors say she moved out of their Tualatin home several weeks ago.

Less than a month before separating from her husband, Stott-Smith lost custody of another, older son.

Stott-Smith had been in a custody fight dating back to March 2005 with Nathan Beck, her oldest son's father, according to Oregon court records. She had full custody of the boy in September 2006. But less than three months ago the father was granted full custody.

KGW News contacted Beck at his home on Monday. He did not wish to comment on Stott-Smith's charges.

Stott-Smith also has a criminal record.

She was charged with domestic assault in 2000, according to her public criminal record.

Less than two weeks after the assault charge she was picked up for misdemeanor shoplifting in Clackamas County.

Tip leads detectives to mother

Authorities involved in the search and rescue were baffled at how two young children had ended up in the river's powerful current, in the middle of the night. But the investigation began immediately.

Shortly after the kids were recovered and 4-year-old Eldon Smith died, Portland homicide detectives took over the case.

They were then contacted by Tualatin police and told of a missing person case involving two children filed on Friday, May 22, by Jason Smith.

Jason Smith described his little boy and young girl to detectives hours after the children were recovered.

His descriptions matched the two children. Detectives immediately began to search for his estranged wife.

Stott-Smith was found Saturday morning on the ninth floor of a downtown Portland parking garage, threatening to jump off a ledge when officers arrived, Detective Sgt. Rich Astoria said.

Her car, a dark blue four-door Audi sedan, was seized.

Anyone who may have seen a car matching that description on or near the Sellwood Bridge Saturday morning around 1 a.m. was urged to call police.

Young girl's recovery 'a miracle'

Her daughter, who survived an hour in the river, remained hospitalized in serious condition, but was expected to live. Police said Sunday that the girl's condition was improving and she had spoken with officers.

The Sellwood Bridge, south of downtown Portland stands about 75 feet above the Willamette River. Many have jumped from the bridge in order to commit suicide.

"How she's not dead is a miracle," said Sgt. Mike Marshman, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman, who has witnessed people take their lives by jumping off the bridge.

It remains unclear how the children ended up in the river -- if they were thrown, pushed or had jumped in for some reason.

'Horrifying screams' lead to children

It was the chilling sound of children's screams on the waters of the Willamette River that set in motion a massive search and rescue operation early Saturday. At least two 9-1-1 calls were made to report the screams. The search was on about 1 a.m., according to police.

Officers from two police departments, boats from Portland's police and fire bureaus, county river authorities, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and even private citizens living nearby all searched in the darkness for a source to the screaming.

The screams were audible from the bridge toward downtown Portland for an hour, the sound traveling with the river's rapid current, authorities said.

Couple launches private boat, locates 2 children

A couple who lived nearby launched their personal boat to join the search and ultimately discovered the children. They had heard the screams and decided to try and help, police said.

Eldon Smith and his older sister were fished from the river about a half-mile downstream of the bridge. They were brought to the docks of the Oregon Yacht Club and police. The boy was dead and his sister was rushed to an area hospital for treatment.

"It must have been horrifying. The water is so cold, it was dark, and so for two little kids, I can only imagine how horrifying that must have been," he said.

Patti Carr lives in the yacht club and heard the early-morning commotion.

"It makes me sick, it just does. It makes you think about your family and want to make sure everybody is safe," she said.

Anyone with information -- or who finds anything suspicious along the Willamette River -- was urged to contact police.