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Mother in San Jose murder-suicide struggled with depression

A woman who police say killed her two young children before taking her own life at her San Jose home had struggled with postpartum depression and left her job to seek treatment, her former employer said on Thursday.

Police gave out little information about the apparent murder-suicide beyond what they had released on Wednesday night, hours after the killings took place in an apartment complex in the 5300 block of Dent Avenue in South San Jose. Authorities have not identified the woman or her two sons, ages 4 and 7, pending notification of relatives, or said how any of the family members were killed.

Linda Do, the owner of Blossom Nail Spa, told this news organization that the woman was a former employee of hers and a person she considered “family.”

When she heard the news Wednesday, Do said, “I was crying, I was hysterical.”

Do said the woman had left her job as a nail technician last March because of severe depression.

“It was complete shock,” Do said, adding that the woman had told her she was seeing a doctor and taking medication for depression. “We were thinking that treatment was getting better.”

Police were called to the apartment complex around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday for a report of a suicide and found three bodies inside one of the homes, according to authorities. They are not seeking any other suspects.

Neighbors said they saw the children’s father screaming outside the apartment when police were called to the scene.

“This is a shock, considering I would see her very frequently,” said Maria Flores, who lives two doors down from the family. “My son would always be playing with those two little boys.”

There was no outward sign of police activity at the two-story blue apartment buildings on Dent Avenue on Thursday afternoon, but a security guard was stationed in the complex’s parking lot.

Denise Coleman, superintendent of the Union School District, declined to directly say whether the 7-year-old was a student in the district because he has not been officially identified.

But Coleman released a statement Thursday morning saying, “Today is a very difficult day for Lietz Elementary and the Union School District.” The elementary school is a few blocks from the scene of the killings.

“We are taking immediate steps now to provide support to our teachers, staff and parents,” Coleman said. “We have also directed additional teaching and support staff to the school.”

The deaths marked San Jose’s eighth and ninth homicides of 2019. There were six homicides at this point last year.

‘Loving’ exterior can hide illness

Flores, the neighbor, said the mother was “very sweet” and always smiling. The father was less congenial, she said, something Flores attributed to a language barrier.

Do said the woman “was an extremely loving mother.”

Cheryl Meyer, a professor at Wright State University who researched cases in which mothers killed their children, said homicides like the one San Jose authorities described are often the culmination of a struggle with mental illness and can happen despite efforts to seek treatment. While Do, the mother’s employer, was aware of the her depression, Meyer said it’s not uncommon for people outside the immediate family to have no idea about the illness.

“Oftentimes their mentality is, ‘I want to die and I can’t leave my kids behind because they are a part of me,’ ” Meyer said, speaking of mothers who kill their children. “These are moms who are very enmeshed with their children, and they’re described almost across the board as loving, dedicated parents.”

Dr. Phillip J. Resnick, professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University who wrote a definitive study on mothers who kill their children, said he could not comment specifically on the San Jose case because he is often called as an expert witness.

But Resnick has identified five types of cases in which mothers kill their children. In one type he has identified, the mother commits to taking her own life and decides to kill her children as well, believing they will be better off dead. In some of those cases, he said, she may simply want to spare them from being left motherless in a wicked world. Cases where multiple children are killed often involve mental illness, he said.

‘She knew she needed help’

Do said the mother worked at the Blossom Nail Spa location in San Jose’s Branham Square shopping center from 2012 to 2018.

Customers raved about her, Do said, saying she was thoughtful and caring. But she said the woman also showed signs of low self-esteem, saying other women were better mothers than her, and that she could be forgetful.

Eventually, Do said, she brought in a letter from a doctor saying that she needed to leave the job because of her depression.

“She couldn’t work and she couldn’t focus,” Do said. “She knew she needed help.”

The woman kept in touch with Do and her other former coworkers after she left, Do said, adding that the employees of the nail shop served as a surrogate family for the woman, who had left many of her relatives when she emigrated from Vietnam. The woman would occasionally stop by the spa to hang out, while her sons were at school or in day care.

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“We were her family here — we were her support system here,” Do said.

Do said the woman often told her that the medication she was taking made her feel “loopy.” But Do said she felt that things were looking up for the woman, who had told her that she was planning a trip back to Vietnam to visit family she had not seen since she left for the United States. The two last talked earlier this year, when Do invited her to the nail spa’s Lunar New Year celebration.

“All of her coworkers were all expecting her to come back,” Do said.

Anyone with information about the deaths can contact Detective Sgt. T.J. Lewis or Detective Brian Meeker at 408-277-5283.

Those wishing to remain anonymous can leave a tip with Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers at 408-947-STOP (7867) or svcrimestoppers.org. Tipsters may be eligible for a cash reward.

Santa Clara County offers mental health crisis assistance 24/7. Click here for more information or call 855-278-4204.​​

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