A November 2016 photograph on Mai Hodges’ Facebook page shows her smiling as she stands alongside her husband, Robert, with their two beaming children at their side. Mai Hodges holds a hand over her pregnant belly, a few months before she gave birth to their third child.
The page is filled with photos of the smiling couple and their children at various outings, including one of the two older kids sitting on Santa’s lap.
Ten months later, the idyllic scene was shattered by what authorities say is one of the worst crimes in decades in Yolo County: a domestic violence attack on Mai Hodges followed by the slayings of their three children, all allegedly committed by Robert Hodges.
Authorities would not give details Thursday of the assault or the deaths of the children, but neighbors say Robert Hodges, 32, choked his wife until she ran out of their second-floor apartment, then smothered the children inside the home.
Police were called to the scene at the Timbers Apartments in the 250 block of Touchstone Place in the Southport neighborhood at about 9:20 Wednesday night on a domestic violence call.
When they arrived, they found Mai Hodges, 30, hysterical and begging them to go inside the apartment.
Officers went in and attempted lifesaving measures on the children, West Sacramento police Sgt. Roger Kinney said. Firefighters who arrived soon after took over, but the three – identified Thursday by the Yolo County coroner as Kelvin Hodges, 11; Julie Hodges, 9; and Lucas Hodges, 7 months – were later declared dead.
Robert Hodges was gone, and authorities issued an alert to regional law enforcement, leading to a California Highway Patrol officer pulling him over around midnight at Interstate 80 and West El Camino Avenue. Hodges, who surrendered without incident, was later booked into the Yolo County Jail on three charges of homicide and one felony domestic violence count and is due for his first court appearance Monday.
Police continued to swarm over the crime scene Thursday, and Kinney, the department spokesman, said the discovery of the dead children had affected even veteran officers.
“It’s been pretty impactful for all of us,” he said. “It’s gut-wrenching for the officers and firefighters who responded to the call.”
Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said it is the worst mass killing in the county since he took office in 1999.
“It is absolutely devastating to a lot of us, even those of us not directly involved in the investigation,” Prieto said. “This is the first triple homicide that I’m aware of. But even a double or triple homicide of adults is a different issue. When you start talking about infants, it’s just so devastating.”
Hodges had no previous criminal history in the area, according to online court records, and neighbors said he seemed like a friendly and outgoing person.
“He always seemed like a good father,” said William Crawford, who lives in the apartment complex. “The kids seemed to love him.”
Betty Scott, a five-year resident of the complex, said she lives in the unit underneath the victims and saw Mai Hodges sitting outside Wednesday night.
“He was choking her and she called the police for domestic violence,” Scott said. “She was sitting out in front of the apartment on the ground. She was sitting there crying.”
At some point, she went upstairs, entered the apartment, and discovered her children were dead, Scott said. That’s when she began to scream.
“It was like a good family,” she said. “You couldn’t even tell (anything) was wrong.”
Neighbor Teresa Bustamante lives across from the unit that she said police officers were walking in and out of throughout the night. She said she first heard about the homicide when an officer came to her door and told her three children died after being suffocated.
She said she and her son, who was watching TV in the living room, did not hear anything suspicious coming from the apartment before police arrived. She described the family as very quiet and said they kept to themselves.
Yolo County Superior Court records show no significant criminal history for Hodges.
Kinney said a chaplain would be sent to help neighbors of the victims and that grief counselors would be made available to the officers who responded to the scene.
Grief counselors were on hand Thursday at Southport Elementary School, where the two older children were students.
Several hundred community members attended a candlelight vigil in the school’s parking lot on Linden Road on Thursday evening. They attached pink and blue ribbons to the chain-link fence, where wreaths were hung in memory of the children.
Friends of the family have set up a Gofundme account to support Mai Hodges.
Mai Menzies spoke on behalf of the children’s relatives and thanked those at the vigil.
“You are the light that shines on this family,” she said.