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A Southern California mother, apparently experiencing severe postpartum depression, said in a jailhouse interview last week that she drowned her three young children to save them from her husband, who she said was involved in a child sex trafficking ring.
Liliana Carrillo, 30, said in the interview on Thursday with local station KGET that she killed her children — Joanna, 3, Terry, 2, and six-month-old Sierra — on April 10 in her Reseda apartment. Their bodies were found on Saturday by their maternal grandmother, the Associated Press reported. Carrillo told KGET that she was protecting the children from their father and her estranged boyfriend, Erik Denton, who she had come to believe was part of a vast child sex trafficking ring.
Denton has denied any allegations of abuse. In court papers filed over the past year seeking sole custody, he has indicated that he feared Carrillo was having a psychotic episode and might hurt their children, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“I drowned them. I did it as softly, I don’t know how to explain it,” Liliana Carrillo told KGET’s Eytan Wallace. “I hugged them. I kissed them. I was apologizing the whole time. I loved my kids. I didn’t want them to be further abused. I wish this didn’t have to be the case, but I promised to protect them.”
Police said that the children were “observed with stab wounds,” People reported; coroner’s autopsies are pending to determine the cause of the children’s deaths.
Carrillo has been embroiled in a custody dispute with Denton for months. He was scheduled to see the children on April 11, according to KTLA. With her children dead in the Reseda apartment, on April 10 Carrillo fled north to Kern County and was later arrested in Tulare County, about 200 miles from Reseda.
Jail records indicate Carrillo is being held in the Kern County jail on three charges related to a carjacking there, which allegedly took place after she fled Reseda. She pleaded not guilty to those charges in court on Wednesday.
Court papers filed by Denton and obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicate that Carrillo struggled with postpartum depression and that her condition grew significantly worse over the last year. Petitioning the court for custody on March 1, Denton claimed that, in addition to believing that Porterville was home to a pedophile ring, Carrillo believed she was solely responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the birth of Terry in 20019, he said, Carrillo began exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. She briefly saw a therapist but refused psychiatric medicine, he said, and instead self-medicated with marijuana. She also threatened to kill herself and expressed regret in having their children, Denton claimed.
Carrillo, in a follow-up petition for a restraining order, claimed that Denton was an alcoholic. She also said that he may have sexually abused their daughter, Joanna, who had apparently complained of pain in her groin area after a fall in a park, the AP reported. The Los Angeles Times reported that after this incident she became fixated on child sex trafficking conspiracies.
The Los Angeles County child welfare agency and the Los Angeles Police Department had been alerted multiple times that Carrillo was a danger to the young children. Social services opted to allow Carrillo to retain custody of the kids — despite the L.A. County’s Department of Children and Family Service having received at least two reports about the family. A court order from a Tulare County judge has restricted the mother’s custody, the Los Angeles Times reported.
As Carrillo’s behavior and mental state worsened, according to Denton’s filing, she allegedly attempted to flee their home in Porterville with the three kids in the middle of the night in late February, the AP reported. Denton called 911, but Carrillo didn’t believe the officer who turned up was in fact a member of the police force; she threatened to take the children to Mexico, where she has family, according to the AP. A social worker contacted Denton and said she was worried about Carrillo’s mental health.
Los Angeles police have said that the investigation into the deaths of the three children is ongoing.
Wild and unfounded belief of mass child sex trafficking has grown across the country over the past few years, as dangerous disinformation has taken hold on social media. In July 2020, QAnon co-opted the #savethechildren hashtag to spread misinformation, including the false accusation that home goods retailer Wayfair is a front for child sex trafficking.
Among the information that has been debunked by researchers, authorities and non-governmental organizations is that there are 10 million child sex slaves worldwide and that “at least 100,000 children in the U.S. are commercially exploited.” The phenomenon, which has grown in the past year throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of disinformation campaigns over the past five years, is akin to the “satanic panic” that began in the early 1980s and spread worldwide by the late 1990s, some experts believe.
“All moral panics blend real societal problems with the cartoon version,” Michael Hobbs, who co-hosts the podcast “You're Wrong About," told the website Romper.com earlier this month. “They blend the solvable with the extreme. These types of crimes — kids in dungeons, thousands of children being abducted by strangers — are just vanishingly rare. And prioritizing them doesn’t help kids who are actually at risk."
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