FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — In the months before David Mohney shot his three children, killing two of them and then himself, his wife's drinking seemed to be tearing the family apart. She was stumbling drunk at times, repeatedly slapped the children and they were increasingly afraid of her, according to documents released Wednesday by state child welfare officials.
Cynthia Mohney's disturbing behavior brought child protective investigators to their central Florida home in June. Her husband poured out all alcohol and the investigator had the entire family sign a handwritten safety plan promising Cynthia wouldn't drink or be violent in the presence of the children.
Two of the children told investigators they felt safer with their father, especially when their mother was drinking, according an investigation by the Department of Children and Families. Cynthia, a nurse practitioner who worked long hours in an emergency room, was referred to weekly substance abuse treatment and the agency closed its case about a month later.
The couple was in the midst of a bitter divorce after more than 25 years of marriage. David Mohney was hoping to end his turbulent marriage, move his children 1,900 miles to South Dakota and away from their mother.
Instead, authorities say the 52-year-old father reached for a gun after arguing with his wife last week. The couple's youngest, 9-year-old Lauren, survived, and is in a medically induced coma, according to the family's attorney. Killed were her siblings, 14-year-old Savannah and 11-year-old David.
Someone called the state's child abuse hotline in June about a supposedly drunk Cynthia Mohney slapping her children several times. Two Thanksgivings ago, she was passed out from drinking and was physically and verbally abusive to one of the children when she woke up. On Christmas Eve, an allegedly "stumbling drunk" Cynthia placed one of the children in a cold shower while they were fully dressed, according to the DCF report.
"The hits described are loud and hard, beyond corporal punishment. The children were crying, afraid and trying to duck or get away from the mother. The mother hits the father and the children more frequently when drunk or when her relatives are visiting to impress her family," according to the allegation.
But Cynthia Mohney's attorney said the allegations were baseless and strategic attempts by a jealous and manipulative husband to get his wife back because he didn't want a divorce. Cynthia attended substance abuse treatment voluntarily, but "it was not ordered and she didn't need it," said Zachary Stombos.
DCF by law cannot identify callers to the abuse hotline, but the allegations closely mirror what David Mohney wrote in court documents about a week earlier when he asked a Volusia County court for a protective order June 3. Two weeks later he dismissed the request.
Although the divorce had turned ugly, Stombos said there was no evidence that David Mohney would ever harm his children.
"He loved his children ... His children absolutely loved and adored him," Stombos said.
But the June visit by a DCF investigator to the home noted "physical injury, family violence threatens children, substance misuse-alcohol," in a report that questioned whether the children were in danger.
The investigator wrote up the family safety plan.
Judges and child advocates have complained that lax enforcement of those prevention services leave children in danger. They warn there usually nothing more than a verbal agreement, which was what the signed plan in the Mohney's case is considered, from a parent to stay away from an abusive spouse, attend parenting classes or to quit drinking or doing drugs.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill that safety plans can no longer rely on just verbal promises.
The couple's surviving daughter suffered brain damage that may affect her speech and could have lifelong complications, Stombos said. Cynthia Mohney is devastated, staying by her daughter's side while preparing for the funeral of her two other children, he said.
"She's trying to be as strong as anybody can possibly be in a setting where they've lost virtually their whole family. Her focus is on Lauren's recovery," Stombos said.