Mother charged in 4 kids' deaths taken to mental institute

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee mother charged with fatally stabbing four of her children was taken to a mental health institute after a brief court appearance Tuesday, authorities said.

Shanynthia Gardner, 29, was taken to Memphis Mental Health Institute after she went before a judge in a video hearing, Shelby County Sheriff's Office spokesman Earle Farrell told The Associated Press.

The institute is a state psychiatric hospital where most patients have "a severe and persistent mental illness and are hospitalized on an emergency, involuntary basis," according to a state website. Farrell said he did not know what treatment she was receiving.

Gardner, who was wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, did not answer Judge L. Lambert Ryan's questions during her hearing. She has been charged with first-degree murder, child abuse and child neglect in the deaths of her three daughters and one son, all younger than 5.

Ryan waived Gardner's arraignment and scheduled a hearing for July 11. Attorney Craig Morton told the judge he is representing Gardner. Outside court, Morton declined to talk about the facts in the case.

"It's too early to be making comments on a case of this nature," Morton said.

Both he and prosecutor Jennifer Nichols plan to file a motion seeking to preserve evidence in the case, including information gathered from social media.

A handful of Gardner's relatives went to the courthouse, but they declined comment to reporters.

Authorities have not said why they think Gardner killed her children. Investigators have been looking into whether she has mental health problems. Friends and neighbors of the family have held vigils to remember the children.

"It's devastating," said Nichols, who also declined to discuss details of the case. "It's important not just to our office, but to the whole community."

Sheriff's officials say Gardner cut her children's throats Friday afternoon at her apartment in a gated community in unincorporated Shelby County. She acknowledged killing them in a phone conversation to their father, Martin Gardner, court documents say. A large butcher knife with what appeared to be blood on it was found in the apartment, the documents show.

When deputies arrived at the apartment, they found Gardner with superficial cuts to her neck and wrists, court documents said.

The victims were identified as 4-year-old Tallen Gardner; 3-year-old Sya Gardner; 2 year-old Sahvi Gardner; and 6-month old Yahzi Gardner. A fifth child, 7-year-old Dallen Clayton, escaped the attack, the documents said. He is Gardner's son from a previous marriage.

Dallen was able to flee the apartment and tell someone that his mother was stabbing his sister. Shanynthia Gardner was taken into custody by deputies shortly afterward.