NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A woman fatally shot two young children and then killed herself with a gunshot to the head inside an SUV parked in a desolate industrial zone of New Orleans on Thursday, police said.
The grim discovery was made just hours after police issued an alert that they were trying to find a woman who had told her mother she was suicidal, had a gun and might harm her 3- and 5-year-old children.
Detective Juan Barnes, a police spokesman, said the bodies have not been positively identified as those of Michelle McCullum and her children, but the dark blue 2014 Nissan Murano matched the description of her car and license plate.
McCullum's family declined to talk to The Associated Press, asking for privacy.
A 59-year-old neighbor, Rick Mathieu, described the deaths as an unforeseen and inexplicable tragedy of a dedicated mother and hard-working woman — someone he'd watched grow up on their quiet and charming street in Treme, an old African-American neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter.
"Her and her husband were having a few marital problems, nothing serious," he said. "We didn't know how serious it was with her, you know."
He described McCullum as an A student who worked hard and "gave her shirt off her back to help others, that's how she was."
He said Caden, the 5-year-old boy, and Cylie, the 3-year-old girl, were fantastic children.
"They'd play right here and I watched them to make sure nothing go down," he said. "I police this block."
He said Caden was "a little genius" who "could sit there and hold a conversation with an adult, he was that smart."
"That little boy could dance. He was into sports, playing football, basketball. He'd say: 'Look at my muscle,'" Mathieu recalled fondly.
Cylie, he said, "was just coming into her own."
Mathieu said McCullum had fallen on hard times after being laid off from a supervisory job at a NASA facility in eastern New Orleans about a year ago. He said her husband also worked at the NASA facility.
He said that McCullum was trying to get into dental school and pursue a career as a dental hygienist, but that she'd had trouble due to "road blocks with grants."
To make a bit of money, she worked during the summers as a life guard at a nearby neighborhood swimming pool, he said.
"She was very smart, very smart," he said. "But I didn't know she had the hard side."
McCullum's vehicle was discovered by David DeGruy, a diesel mechanic at Richard's Disposal Inc. He said he checked the SUV parked near the garbage company's work yards and office in eastern New Orleans after one of his drivers said someone was slumped behind the wheel and immediately dialed 911.
"She was slumped over, leaning towards the passenger side. She had blood all over her head and shoulder," he said.
He said he did not see the children then. After police broke a window and then opened the doors, he said, he saw what appeared to be children's bodies on the floor in the back.
The office is near a junkyard in an area where mattresses have been dumped alongside the road and a junked boat is overgrown in weeds and bushes.
The coroner plans to perform an autopsy and identify the bodies, Barnes said.
Associated Press reporter Bill Fuller contributed to this report.