Sandy Ford is pictured with her grandchildren, from left, Paige, Madalyn, and Logan Hayes.
Within an hour after Mandy Hayes dropped off three of her children at Whiteford Elementary School on Monday, she was told in a phone call from the school that they had failed to show up in their classrooms, police revealed on Tuesday.
Sylvania Township police put out an all-points bulletin to area law enforcement to be on the lookout for Paige Hayes, 10, Logan Hayes, 7, and Madalyn Hayes, 5, after receiving a report from Mrs. Hayes that they were missing.
Chief Robert Boehme said Mrs. Hayes suspected her children had been taken from the school by their maternal grandmother, Sandy Ford.
Hours later, the three children — along with Mrs. Ford, 56, her son, Andy Ford, 32, and three family pets — were found dead, presumably of carbon monoxide poisoning, inside a car parked inside the garage of Mrs. Ford’s Harvest Lane home in West Toledo.
The three children and two adults were jammed in the back seat of the car. The two dogs and the cat were in the front seat.
Authorities are continuing to investigate what they are calling a multiple murder-suicide case, and said the adults might have been motivated by a “custody” dispute between Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Hayes.
“There’s years and years of experience here [at the Toledo Police Department], and we’ve been at a complete loss as to how you can have two adults conspire to kill three children,” Toledo police Sgt. Tim Noble said. “It’s really hard to comprehend.”
Monday afternoon, Randy Ford, 60, Mrs. Ford’s husband, returned home from work without any sign of his family. Inside there were “suspicious” notes from his wife, son, and grandchildren that caused him to become concerned, police have said.
Once he realized he could not get into the garage, Mr. Ford called police at 3:17 p.m. At 3:26 p.m., police and fire crews arrived on scene; firefighters forced entry into the garage using a sledgehammer. Inside they found a running truck with hoses in the exhaust funneling into a rear passenger window, filling the car with fumes, apparently causing the deaths of the children, Mrs. Ford, her son, two Shepherd-mix dogs, and a cat.
Toledo police declined to release the notes, citing the ongoing investigation, and declined to comment on how many were left, whom they were written to, or what the notes said.
When asked if the notes gave any indication what the children knew about the apparent plans of Mrs. Ford and her son, Sgt. Joe Heffernan said, “We don’t know.”
Chief Boehme said a township officer went to the Ford residence several times to check on their safety after Mrs. Hayes reported the children were missing about 10 a.m, but did not get anyone to answer the door.
The incident was handled as “interference with custody”, not an abduction, the chief said, because Mrs. Hayes thought her mother, Mrs. Ford, had the children.
"She suspected her right in the beginning," he said.
Chief Boehme said school officials, who called Mrs. Hayes at home about 8:20 a.m., reviewed the video recording from inside the building that showed Mrs. Ford waiting inside the school lobby, where she took her grandchildren and left.
Chief Boehme said officers sent out a missing persons bulletin on the disappearance with a description of each child, but didn't issue an Amber Alert because the incident didn't meet the criteria for the emergency notification program.
“All I can tell you is that there were no red flags to indicate the children were in imminent danger,” he said. “There was nothing at that point to show that Sandy would harm the children.”
In 2009, Mrs. Hayes and her husband, Chris Hayes, asked Mrs. Hayes' parents to take care of the three children while they dealt with another child's “significant behavior problems,” said Dean Sparks, executive director of Lucas County Children Services.
Mr. Sparks declined to elaborate on what the behavioral problems were, but said Mrs. Hayes “was overwhelmed” and asking her parents to watch the children was the right thing to do.
The children lived with their grandparents and uncle in the Harvest Lane home — with continued and frequent contact and visits from their parents — for several years without any reported problems, authorities from several agencies said.
The first sign of possible trouble came this year — on Nov. 6 — when Toledo police were called to the Ford's home for a report of domestic violence between Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Hayes, authorities said.
Sergeant Heffernan said Tuesday that the report about the incident was not available.
Police were back at the home only days later for a custody exchange, Sergeant Heffernan said.
On Saturday, Mr. Sparks said, the children moved back into their parents' home, apparently against the wishes of Mrs. Ford.
“[Mrs. Ford] wanted to prevent the mother [Mrs. Hayes] from coming to take the children, but we had no legal authority to do that,” Mr. Sparks said.
Because Mr. and Mrs. Hayes asked the grandparents to watch the children, there was no need for Children Services to do a home study, he said.
In the three years that Paige, Logan, and Madalyn lived with the grandparents, the sibling who remained with the parents had seen therapists and had “been in all kinds of services,” Mr. Sparks said.
Until Nov. 7, the agency had no involvement with the family since 2009, when they were contacted because of the dispute between Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Hayes. A caseworker was “working with the family because of the conflict, but there was no indication that this would happen,” Mr. Sparks said.
Kim Slater, the older sister of Mr. Hayes, said her brother and sister-in-law were happy to have their family back together.
“[Mandy] was posting every day on Facebook how much she adored her kids and how thankful she was,” said Ms. Slater, who lives in York, Pa. “She was so thankful for the kids living at home again.”
Ms. Slater described the three children as “adorable. They were so sweet, and just good kids.” She added that Mr. and Mrs. Hayes recently had a fifth child and that, through Facebook postings, Ms. Slater noted that Mrs. Hayes “was honestly the happiest I'd ever seen her.”
Neither Mandy nor Chris Hayes appeared to be at their Sylvania home Tuesday when a reporter knocked on the door.
Neighbors who live on their quiet street either declined to comment or said the Hayes family is quiet and mostly keeps to themselves.
Not far away, at Whiteford Elementary, counselors, teachers, and staff were working to make sure students had time to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
Sylvania City Schools Superintendent Bradley Rieger said there was a counselor or school psychologist in every classroom for the entire day.
In the morning, teachers and staff “greeted kids with warm smiles and hugs” and, after morning announcements, had the students in each class sit in a circle where the teachers — without going into detail — said three of their schoolmates had died. The students were then encouraged to talk about the memories of the children or to talk about their own experiences with death.
Mr. Rieger, who spent most of the day with fourth and fifth grade classes at the school — Paige was in fifth grade, Logan in second, and Madalyn in kindergarten — said students also made posters or another art project in memory of the Hayes children.
“They were really powerful,” he said.
In Paige's class, Mr. Rieger learned that the 10-year-old had, last week, received an award from the D.A.R.E. Officers there because “she was the type of student who had great character and a great work ethic.”
Funeral services are being handled by Dowling Funeral Home, 7509 New West Rd., said director John Dowling.
Visitation is expected to be held Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m. at the funeral home. The funeral is scheduled for Monday at 11 a.m. at Olivet Lutheran Church, 5840 Monroe St.
Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6054.