In mid-August, a heartbreaking story about two young boys killed in South Carolina made headlines around the country. Two-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja'Van were trapped in a car submerged in a river. After receiving a 911 call from a passer-by, police arrived to find the children's 29-year-old mother, Shaquan Duley, distraught and almost incoherent. Police say she told them that her children were trapped in the car. Within minutes, divers discovered that neither boy had survived.
Shortly after police discovered Devean and Ja'Van, they began questioning Shaquan's story. Shaquan allegedly told authorities that she suffocated her sons with her own hands in a local hotel room. She then allegedly put their lifeless bodies into the car and drove it into the river.
Shaquan's mother and sister say Shaquan became very angry earlier that day when she learned that her sons had been given a bath without her permission. "I said, 'Shaquan, this has to do with the fact that you don't take care of your children like you're supposed to,'" her sister Adriane says. "We were speaking to each other in what I would refer to as an elevated tone of voice."
Shaquan's mother, Helen, says she was worried the fight would escalate. "[Shaquan] was highly upset, raging, acting like a crazy person. Nothing like I've ever seen in her before," she says. "I'm like, 'This is not my daughter.' And so when I saw her flaring up in Adriane's face I said, 'There can't be a physical altercation in here.' So I ... called the police."
Adriane says Shaquan scooped up her sons, put them in the car and drove off. "That was the last that I saw of her," she says.
A few hours later, Helen says the coroner was at her house. "He said: 'Ma'am, I'm sorry. Your daughter is at the hospital, but your two grandsons perished.' It was the worst news I could have heard."
Looking back, Helen says she thinks Shaquan may have gotten worked up because she felt her family had invaded her privacy. "I think she got upset because we bathed [her children] and I first had to tell her, 'You can't leave children undone all day long,'" she says.
Shaquan's father says her behavior that day was uncharacteristic. "It was just a little something that was blown out of proportion," he says. "She's a very loving daughter."
Though Helen says Shaquan had been going through a hard time recently, she never believed her daughter was capable of violence against her children. Aside from the two boys, Shaquan also has a daughter, who currently lives with Adriane. Shaquan "loved children, and she always did what she could to take care of her children," Helen says. "I know when she had her children she was very proud to become a mom, so the thought never came in my mind that she would do anything like that. I was totally shocked."
Shaquan's family has spoken to her since the confession, but say they have not discussed the boys' deaths. "I think for me it's best that we just don't have that discussion. I just want to remember my nephews as they were and not focus so much on the end of their lives," Adriane says.
Helen says she would like to know what happened that day but is waiting for Shaquan to tell her herself. "I don't know whether I could just ask her 'Shaquan, why did you do this?' I don't know, because she must have snapped."
Shaquan's case is still under active investigation, and she is currently in jail awaiting trial. She was recently denied bond and has yet to enter a plea. Shaquan's lawyer, Carl Grant, says there are many issues that must be factored into the case. Hours after the incident, local mental health officials diagnosed Shaquan as having a major depressive disorder with psychotic features, Carl says. "The evidence shows that she sliced her wrist in an attempt to commit suicide, ... and she drove her car into the river in an attempt to drown herself."
Carl says they have already filed notice of their intent to rely upon the insanity defense in this case.
Shaquan's mother says she knew Shaquan was going through a rough patch recently. Shaquan was unemployed, raising three children and living with her parents, Helen says. "She was depressed about not having the means to take care of the children," Helen says. "I took care of the house and paid for everything because I work full time. So I know she was very depressed about that. ... And she was trying to go to school online, and she failed those classes."
Shaquan's family all say they have forgiven her for her actions. "I'm a Christian, and the Bible teaches you that you have to forgive," Adriane says. "It doesn't say whether it's a great sin or small sin. If God forgives us, then we owe that to Shaquan to forgive her."
Under the law, Shaquan's case qualifies for the death penalty, but Carl says they are hoping the prosecutor won't seek it. "Until he makes his decision, you can bet it will be my fervent prayer and hope that he does not," he says. "Regardless of any allegations of a confession, a trial still has to occur."