A 33-year-old Morris Township woman strangled her 4-year-old daughter to death and attempted to strangle her 6-year-old daughter before trying to kill herself, the Morris County Prosecutor's Office said Monday morning.
Jenny Lizette Erazo-Rodriguez faces first-degree murder charges in the death of her youngest daughter, Mary Gonzalez, 4, who died of suffocation caused by strangulation, authorities said.
Erazo-Rodriguez also is charged with attempted murder for trying to strangle her 6-year-old, Niurka Gonzalez, but did not succeed in killing her before trying to kill herself.
Niurka Gonzalez suffered minor injuries, authorities said, but is expected to make a full recovery.
Erazo-Rodriguez is being held in lieu of $1 million bail. In addition to charges of murder and attempted murder, she also is charged with endangering the welfare of a child. She was first taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the girls’ father -- whose name was not released -- returned home shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday after failing to find work as a carpenter. He began doing yardwork around their Highland Avenue home, but found it odd that his girls had not come outside to greet him.
When he went inside the house, he heard a commotion and found his 4-year-old daughter lying on the floor, unconscious. He slung the girl over his shoulder and ran to a neighbor’s house -- a nurse -- for help. Meanwhile, Erazo-Rodriguez attempted suicide. Authorities would not say how the woman tried to take her own life.
Mary Gonzalez was taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 11:06 a.m. Her sister was treated for non-life threatening injuries.
The first Morris Township police officer at the scene, Patrolman Christopher Vargas-Vila, wrote in an affidavit that when he arrived, the 33-year-old mother said, in Spanish, "I killed my girl. I killed my girl, my baby girl."
Niurka Gonzalez told other officers that she awoke Sunday mornintg and heard her sister's cries coming from her mother's bedroom. Her mother ordered the older girl back to her room. Her mother followed her, then sat on her back and told her not to breathe. She eventually lost consciousness.
Erazo-Rodriguez is expected to make an initial appearance in Superior Court, Morristown, on Tuesday.
The prosecutor’s office said there is no history of violence at the family’s Highland Avenue home. Authorities declined to discuss whether Erazo-Rodriguez has an arrest record or a history of mental illness.
Morris County authorities also are working with U.S. immigration authorities to determine the woman’s immigration status.
Vargas-Villa and other police arrived at the house shortly after a 10:15 a.m. phone call reporting an emergency at the home, Bianchi said. There, police found a neighbor administering CPR to the unconscious, unresponsive 4-year-old girl on the lawn.
Another neighbor was caring for the girl’s 6-year-old sister, who was conscious but lethargic, Bianchi said. Both girls were taken to Morristown Memorial Hospital.
At 11:06, the Mary Gonzalez was pronounced dead, Bianchi said. Niurka Gonzalez was being treated Sunday for non-life-threatening injuries.
Gilbert Gibson of Newark was visiting his mother in the neighborhood. He said he saw a woman on the front porch of 62 Highland Ave. with a gray T-shirt and pajama pants. He said he saw blood on the inside of the woman’s left thigh, down to her knee. Paul declined to confirm whether the woman Gibson described was Erazo-Rodriguez.
“I could tell by the way they were escorting her to ambulance, she just wanted to go,” Gibson said.
Other neighbors said they were stunned by the incident.
“We have an entire neighborhood with children of all ages, so it can be scary for the kids,” said neighbor Marcia Gibson, Gilbert Gibson's mother.
“Something like this has never happened before," another neighbor, Chrystina Simpson, said.
Several neighbors, most of whom declined to provide their names, said they heard a man they presumed to be Erazo-Rodriguez's husband cry out in anguish.
Simpson said the family living at 62 Highland Ave. had been in the gold, Cape Cod-style home for less than a year.
Morris Township police, the prosecutor's office and the Morris County Sheriff's Office's Criminal Investigation Section had all taken part in the investigation. Officials remained on the scene late Sunday night.
“This is an absolute tragedy and I join (Morris Township Police) Chief Timothy Quinn in extending our deepest sympathies to the family of this young child who passed away,” Bianchi said. “We are asking anyone with information to call the Morris Township Police Department at 973-539-0777, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-285-6200 or the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Crime Stopper Program at 973-COPCALL.”