PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – A Texas woman accused of killing her 6-year-old son and leaving his body on a dirt road in Maine may have come to New England to kill her son and commit suicide, saying the boy is "in heaven" and she wants to go there as soon as possible, her lawyer said Thursday.
Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving, Texas, was ordered held without bail Thursday on second-degree murder charges in New Hampshire, where she made her initial court appearance after waiving extradition earlier in the day from Massachusetts.
She stared at the floor during her appearance in Portsmouth District Court, and she appeared to be crying when she was led from the courtroom.
Hours earlier, a lawyer representing her at a hearing in Massachusetts said that based on conversations with his client that he believes she came to the region with the idea of taking her son's life and committing suicide.
"I believe she was up here to bring both herself and her son to heaven," Murphy said in Concord, Mass. "She told me, 'I love my son very much. I know where he is. He's in heaven. I want to go there as soon as possible.'"
Investigators believe McCrery killed 6-year-old Camden Hughes on Saturday in Hampton, N.H., and then left the body in an isolated area in South Berwick, Maine.
Preliminary autopsy findings showed that the cause of Camden's death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to Maine's chief medical examiner. The homicide remains under investigation.
The boy last attended school in Texas on Friday, May 6. On Monday, May 9, his mother called to report that he was absent because he was ill, and she continued to call this week, saying he was still sick, said Pat Lamb, director of security for the Irving Independent School District.
The last call to the school was Wednesday morning, hours before McCrery was questioned by state police in Massachusetts.
The case drew national attention as the boy went unidentified for days because no one reported him missing. State police in Maine released a computer-generated image showing a boy with blond hair and blue eyes.
After the New Hampshire hearing, Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell said McCrery's family is traveling to New England and will claim the boy's body. She did not say which family members or when they would arrive.
"I think it's just a tragic case. There's not much more I can say right now," said Monica Kaeser, McCrery's public defender in New Hampshire.
McCrery was detained Wednesday at a Massachusetts highway rest stop after police got a tip about her pickup truck, which matched a vehicle spotted near the spot where the boy's body was found covered with a blanket.
Her detention Wednesday set off a rapid-fire chain of events in which the investigation shifted from Maine, where the boy's body was discovered, to Massachusetts, where McCrery was questioned, and finally to New Hampshire, where authorities believe the boy died and the formal charges were ultimately filed.
But McCrery's friend, Shirley Miller of Arlington, Texas, said "Julie" McCrery suffered from mood swings and sometimes would just "up and go" without telling anyone. Last fall, she took her son out of kindergarten and they went to Seattle and Nebraska before returning to Texas where she was living with Miller's adult son.
Miller said McCrery "was up one minute and down the next" but she would never have believed that McCrery would hurt her son.
"I would say she was a caring mother," Miller said. "I don't know why she did this unless she just flipped out."
Court documents and interviews paint a conflicting portrait of a devoted mother who loved her young son but one who also served time in jail.
Texas public records show that McCrery was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs.
On Amazon.com, there's a book for sale by Julie McCrery about how to get a good night's sleep titled: "Good Night, Sleep Tight!" The biography says McCrery drove a school bus and operated a cement mixer. Her latest job, according to court records in Massachusetts, was as an "auto parts delivery contractor" in Texas.
Her son died Saturday, the same day his body was discovered by a resident in Maine. Investigators believe he died earlier that same day in Hampton, N.H., where a motel room was being treated as a crime scene. Massachusetts state police questioned her at a rest stop in Chelmsford.
All three locations are with 65 miles of each other.
Shirley Miller said the mood swings and road trips made her question whether McCrery suffered from a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder.
Murphy, who met with a tearful McCrery in Massachusetts, said she told him that she'd attempted suicide within the past few days and had tried to kill herself several times in 2004.
Back in Texas, Miller said she babysat Camden about two weeks ago and he was wearing the same clothes he had on when his body was found in Maine. She said the clothes were brand new.
"I'm stuck in that. Why did she leave him beside the road? I cannot get past that. That does not seem like her. I know she probably did it, but I can't get past why," she said.
Lamb described McCrery's son as "a gifted and talented" kindergartner at W.T. Hanes Elementary School in Irving. Grief counselors were on hand to assist children and staff as news of his death spread on 600-student campus, Lamb said.
"He was a really bright student. His teachers described him as a sponge who loved to learn," Lamb said.
Associated Press writers Russell Contreras in Boston and Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas contributed to this report.
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