msnbc.com staff and news service reports
FORT WORTH, Texas — A Texas man sent his ex-girlfriend a cell phone photo showing their infant and toddler sons with a “goodbye” message and then a graphic photo that appeared to show the baby dead — a day before authorities found the youngsters’ bodies, two of the mother’s friends said Thursday.
Gabriel Armandariz, 28, was jailed on $1.5 million bond on a capital murder charge in Young County, where the two bodies were found early Thursday after an all-night search triggered by a family member concerned for their welfare, Graham police said.
Authorities declined to say how the children died in Graham, a rural community about 75 miles northwest of Fort Worth, or release other details about the case.
Two people who work with the children’s mother in the West Texas town of Sudan said they saw the cell phone pictures sent from Armandariz, her ex-boyfriend, on Wednesday before she went to police in a nearby town.
Douglas Ames, the woman’s boss at the Chuck Wagon restaurant, said the mother was upset Wednesday afternoon, saying Armandariz had been calling her and saying strange things. One photo sent to the woman’s phone Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press, shows 2-year-old Gatlin and 8-month-old Luke sitting on a bed. Another shows Armandariz lying on a bed with a child on either side of him. Under that photo is the message, “We love u goodbye.”
Even after seeing a third disturbing picture that appeared to show Luke dead, the children’s mother, Ames and the other co-worker initially were not sure if it was real but went to police anyway, Ames said.
“Then the next morning, we find out the kids are dead,” Ames said. “She’s been a basket case.”
Citing Bradley, the Wichita Falls Record News identified the mother as Lauren Smith.
‘They were sweet children’
Smith was living in Texas Panhandle — about 250 miles northwest of Graham — with a relative and had been working with an attorney to try to get her sons back from Armandariz, who had taken them a few months ago, Bradley said.
“I’ve held that baby, and he’s a chunk. They were sweet children,” Bradley said.
Ames said a fund was being set up at First United Bank to help with funeral expenses.
“She’s got to plan a funeral for two babies,” Ames said.
Some people on Thursday placed stuffed animals outside the house where the boys had been living with their father, according to the Wichita Falls Times Record News.
“They’re little angels now,” Sally Cervantes told the newspaper after dropping off a card for the family. “It’s so difficult to accept such a loss. There aren’t any words.”
In Texas, a defendant convicted of capital murder can face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this story.