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A Georgia woman is in custody after officials say she stabbed several of her children inside their burning home.
Darlene Brister, 40, was arrested on Friday after authorities were called to a home in Rockmart, Georgia — about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta — at 9:19 p.m. on Friday for reports that a woman was “attempting to stab the occupants” inside the burning structure, according to the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office. Jail records reviewed by Oxygen.com show the address of the fire is listed as Brister’s primary residence.
When responders arrived at the “chaotic scene,” they found seven children in the burning home, five of whom had sustained stab wounds. Brister is the mother of the children involved, according to an updated release. The house fire was extinguished after deputies arrived, according to the sheriff’s office.
Two children, ages 3 years and 9 months old, were pronounced dead on the scene after suffering “apparent stab wounds,” according to that update released on Sunday. Three others — ages 5, 9 and 11 years-old — were taken to a local hospital. Early reports had claimed that the 9-year-old had also died, but the sheriff’s office cited “conflicting information from medical professionals,” in announcing that the child remains in critical but stable condition. The 5-year-old died at the hospital.
A 14-year-old and a 16-year-old found at the home were unharmed. According to a GoFundMe page, some of the children were able to escape after jumping from a second-story window.
“I walked out the door and could see the fire in the house,” neighbor Willie Hayes told reporters from ABC Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV. “They bring the kids out dead, and she is still hiding in the house. It’s pitiful.”
Paulding County officials said Brister was “located on the property” and arrested soon after. She was booked into the Paulding County Detention Center on two counts of malice murder, though additional charges have yet to be filed, according to the sheriff’s office. Those charges had not been added to jail records reviewed by Oxygen.com on Monday afternoon.
Officials have not said whether or not Brister started the fire, nor has she yet been charged with arson, but added that “additional charges are likely.”
According to the GoFundMe page, the children’s father, Ricky Brister, had just returned home from another state as the scene unfolded, and he “immediately jumped out of his car yelling for his babies.”
On Sunday, Ricky Brister spoke with NBC Atlanta affiliate WXIA-TV, explaining that his wife had been struggling with her mental health and that they were in the process of trying to get her professional help.
“I want people to know that Ricky Brister is a Christian, and he loves his wife,” said Brister, referring to himself. “There is no hate toward her. I’m definitely, definitely hurt by what she did, but I still have to move forward.”
Reporters asked Mr. Brister, who said his goal was to focus on the surviving children, whether or not he could forgive his wife.
“She was forgiven already; she was already forgiven,” he said. “I want people to love people like Christ loved the Church and forgive them, have an open heart and compassion.”
Creators of the GoFundMe page are trying to raise money for housing, funeral costs and other basic needs for the Brister family.
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