Associated Press Writer
Autopsies were planned Sunday for three young children who were found dead hours after a woman was charged with killing their pregnant mother and her fetus in a grisly attack.
The two boys, ages 7 and 2, and their 1-year-old sister were found together Saturday in an East St. Louis apartment where their mother lived, State Police Capt. Craig Koehler said.
The children were last seen Monday with family friend Tiffany Hall, 24, now charged with first-degree murder in the death of their mother, who is believed to have been slain days before her children disappeared. Hall is also charged with intentional homicide of an unborn child, prosecutor Robert Haida said.
Koehler declined to say whether Hall was suspected in the children's deaths. The cause of their deaths had not been determined, he said.
The bodies of DeMond Tunstall, 7, Ivan Tunstall-Collins, 2, and Jinela Tunstall, 1, were found in an apartment at the John DeShields public housing complex, capping a furious two-day search that included scouring an 1,100-acre state park.
Authorities said a lead directed them to check the apartment, which had not been searched previously. They declined to elaborate.
"Anytime you have three deceased children, it's a very emotional time," Koehler said late Saturday as he fought back tears. "All these investigators have worked tirelessly with one outcome in mind — to find these children alive."
The body of their mother, Jimella Tunstall, 23, was found Thursday in a weedy East St. Louis lot. Authorities believe her womb was cut open after she was knocked unconscious.
An autopsy showed Tunstall, who was seven months pregnant, bled to death after sustaining an abdominal wound caused by a sharp object, believed to be scissors, said Ace Hart, a deputy St. Clair County coroner.
Relatives say Tunstall grew up with Hall and had let her baby-sit her children.
"She said (Hall) was looking out for her," Tunstall's brother, Ernest Myers, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Family members told the newspaper Tunstall had lost custody of her children at one point but was trying to get her life back on track. "She had a heart of gold," Myers said.
Officials suspect Tunstall was slain on or about Sept. 15, Haida said. The same day, Hall summoned police to a park, saying she had given birth to a stillborn child, Hart said.
Hall and the fetus were taken to a hospital, where she would not let doctors examine her and offered conflicting reasons for why she went into labor, alternately saying she had consensual sex and was raped, Hart said. The dead baby showed no signs of trauma, and an autopsy the next day failed to pinpoint a cause of death, Hart said.
Hall has two children of her own. Koehler said they are "safe and sound."
Authorities say Hall acknowledged to her boyfriend during the baby's funeral Thursday that the child wasn't his, and that she had killed the mother to get it. The boyfriend, reportedly a sailor home on leave, told police, who arrested his girlfriend hours later, investigators said.
Hall, jailed on $5 million bond, will likely be arraigned Monday on the two charges, each carrying a 20 to 60 years or life in prison, Haida said. The murder count could be punishable by the death penalty.
DNA tests should determine definitively whether the baby was the one Tunstall was carrying, Hart said.