ATLANTA -- In a turn of events that some people in Union, S.C., expected but few wanted to believe, a mother who reported that her two little boys had been abducted by a carjacker was arrested yesterday and charged with their murder. She is to be arraigned today.
The mother, 23-year-old Susan Smith, had appealed over and over to God and the people of South Carolina to help get her children back. Her arrest warrant showed that she had confessed to the killings, the Associated Press reported.
Two small bodies, believed to be 3-year-old Michael Smith and his 14-month-old brother, Alexander, were found yesterday inside the mother's car, deep under the waters of a lake a few miles outside the small mill town of Union in northwestern South Carolina. They had been missing since Oct. 25.
The children apparently drowned under John D. Long Lake, a popular spot for fishing and picnicking.
The Associated Press reported that Mrs. Smith apparently provided information that led investigators to her car yesterday afternoon, Solicitor Thomas Pope said.
The discovery of the two decomposed bodies, which are expected to be identified in an autopsy today, came just a few hours after Mrs. Smith made the most recent in a long line of tearful appeals in front of television cameras to have her children returned to her.
"I have prayed to the Lord every day," Mrs. Smith said yesterday. "It's just so sad that someone could take such beautiful children. I have put all my trust and faith in the Lord that he will bring them home to us."
Union County Sheriff Howard Wells announced Mrs. Smith's arrest at an early-evening news conference outside the county courthouse. He said formal charges were expected to be filed today.
Sheriff Wells would not answer questions about why Mrs. Smith would have killed her children or how such a hoax could have fooled investigators and others for more than a week.
Even as the news spread that Mrs. Smith was to be charged with the boys' murder, ministers in Union held a prayer vigil. Signs were taped to columns on the courthouse that said, "We love you, Michael and Alex, Susan and David." David Smith is the boys' father.
"No one here can believe it," Gene Gregory, who runs a restaurant in Union, said in a telephone interview. "People are sitting here crying. Dear Lord, how can this happen?"
Mrs. Smith reported that an armed man forced her out of her car at a stoplight at a crossroads a few miles outside Union and drove away with her children still strapped into the back seat, leaving her screaming in the middle of the road. As the man drove away, Mrs. Smith said, she screamed, "I love ya'll!"
She described the carjacker as a black man between 20 and 30 years old, and until yesterday, sheriff's deputies, the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies had tracked down one dead-end lead after another. She said that she had begged the man to let her have her children, but that he had told her that he would "take care of them."
John D. Long Lake had been searched twice by divers, who found nothing. Sheriff Wells would not answer questions about why the car, a burgundy 1990 Mazda, was not found.
The lack of progress in the past few days led investigators and others in Union County to doubt Mrs. Smith's story, but over and over Sheriff Wells seemed to deflect suspicion from the mother.
Even when a lie detector test showed that Mrs. Smith seemed to be trying to deceive the questioner, Sheriff Wells said only that he had not dismissed her, or her estranged husband, as suspects.
"The public is trying to make her the suspect," said Sheriff Wells, who noted that it would not be unusual for a mother scared over the abduction of her children to give conflicting statements.
Mrs. Smith, a secretary at a textile mill, has filed for a divorce, contending that her husband, the assistant manager at the Union Winn-Dixie grocery store, had committed adultery. But there has beenno custody battle. Mrs. Smith got full custody of the children, which Mr. Smith did not challenge.
Also yesterday, in an interview on the CBS News program "This (( Morning," Mrs. Smith said that she had agreed to let the authorities search her home on Wednesday.
With her husband by her side for the interview, she denied knowing anything about the whereabouts of their two sons.
"I did not have anything to do with the abduction of my children," Mrs. Smith said in the interview.
"I don't think that any parent could love my children more than I do," she added.