A distraught Zimbabwean mother whose son died in USA in April left Texas more than a month ago after telling relatives she was returning to the Capital Region so she and her two daughters could die where he committed suicide, police said Tuesday.
Early Tuesday, Angela Mtambu, 47, killed herself and her two daughters, Callidora "Cara" Thurston, who police said was 9, and Eudora Thurston, 6, despite efforts by her brothers, police and rescue workers to save them, East Greenbush Police Chief Chris Lavin said.
Compressed nitrogen gas flooded a barricaded first-floor bedroom at the family's 58 Rockrose Drive townhouse.
It took three police officers to break open the door.
"Her intent was for her and her two children to be deceased in the same residence as her son Mitchell Gwatida had succumbed on April 1," Lavin said. The 23-year-old Air Force veteran died of asphyxiation.
Mtambu and her son moved from Harare, Zimbabwe, to New York state in 1997, settling in East Greenbush in 2002.
Mtambu was a registered nurse who trained at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Zimbabwe. She worked as a nurse for the state Department of Correctional Services from 2008-11.
Police said Mtambu had worked overseas and in this country, most recently in Houston.
Mtambu bought homes in the Capital Region, settling at the Rockrose Drive townhouse in 2006, according to Rensselaer County tax records.
Gwatida's suicide left Mtambu "very distraught," according to a neighbor who said he had talked about the situation with her.
On June 1 an Amber Alert was issued in Pennsylvania after Mtambu's relatives in Texas contacted East Greenbush police, Lavin said. Pennsylvania State Police found Mtambu's car in a hotel parking lot near Harrisburg and took her into custody. Her daughters were sent to their uncles, Bernard Pamberi and Hapa Madyira, in East Greenbush. Mtambu was released from a Harrisburg-area hospital after psychiatric observation on June 22 and rejoined her family on Friday, Lavin said.
"When she was released about one-and-a-half weeks ago, she came back and she wanted to come back to the house. There was not furniture in the house because she had shipped all the things from Texas," Pamberi said.
Mtambu lived with Pamberi "for a couple of days," he said. During that time, Rensselaer County Child Protective Services workers interviewed Mtambu, according to police. County officials said they could not comment on whether CPS workers had interacted with the family.
"This weekend, she decided to come to the house. We had some beds in there. The brother just came from South Africa to try and help," Pamberi said.
On Sunday, Lavin said, Mtambu's brothers allowed her to sleep in the same room with her daughters.
Pamberi said he and Madyira spent the day before the deaths with Mtambu and the girls.
"There was no sign. We spent the whole day, yesterday, with the children, and they went to Hoffman Park. We went for dinner at Applebee's restaurant. We took them for ice cream at the Funplex," he said.
He said they returned home at about 8 p.m. and went to sleep at around 10:30, he and his brother upstairs and Mtambu and her daughters downstairs.
Pamberi said he and Madyira awoke to the sound of hissing. "And apparently she had locked us in the bedroom so we couldn't get out. We couldn't figure out what was wrong with the door. We kept playing with the handle."
When they were able to get downstairs, "We knocked on the door, and she could not answer," Pamberi said. "We tried to knock the door in."
The men called 911 at about 1:45 a.m. Tuesday. Police, rescue workers and firefighters arrived within minutes.
Once police smashed through the door, officers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until the three were taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital.
"It's a horrible tragedy anytime a mother takes the lives of her two children," Carmello Laquidara, Rensselaer County's first assistant district attorney, said after speaking to police at the scene.
Serviceman: According to his obituary, Gwatida, a native of Zimbabwe served in the U.S. Air Force from 2010-2013 and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan
Emergency workers found more than one 30-pound cylinder of the gas in the room, Lavin said.
None of the three police officers and 24 volunteers at the scene reported ill effects from the nitrogen gas, he said.
Police did not say where Mtambu got the canisters.
Dr. Michael Sikirica, the county medical examiner, issued preliminary cause-of-death results following the autopsies and the police investigation.
Mtambu was ruled to have committed suicide by inhaling nitrogen gas. The children were homicide victims, police said.
The investigation is continuing pending the results of toxicology and lab tests and forensic evaluation of materials from the residence, police said.
The girls' father, Frank Thurston of New Jersey, could not be reached for comment.
Lavin praised the actions of the officers and rescue workers. Town police were assisted by Rensselaer police, State Police, Bruen Rescue Squad, North Greenbush Rescue Squad, Mohawk Ambulance and Clinton Heights Fire Department. – Times Union