Bob Whitaker/Lowell Sun/AP
CONCORD — A Texas woman taken into custody earlier Wednesday in Chelmsford was arrested late Wednesday night on charges that she suffocated her 6-year-old son. The arrest came four days after the child was found dead on a Maine back road in an episode that shocked the region.
Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving, was charged late Wednesday night with second-degree murder in the death of her son, Camden Pierce Hughes, New Hampshire Attorney General Michael A. Delaney said in a statement.
McCrery was also charged as a fugitive from justice and is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Concord District Court in Massachusetts, according to Delaney.
He said Maine’s chief medical examiner has determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation, but said the final determination is pending further study.
Delaney said McCrery killed her son on Saturday in Hampton, N.H., hours before his body was discovered on a dirt road in South Berwick, Maine.
State Police in New Hampshire were reportedly investigating a hotel room in Hampton Wednesday where McCrery is believed to have stayed, possibly with her son.
For days, the identity of the boy remained a mystery, confounding police and riveting New England.
Just after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, investigators began to get some answers. Someone at a Chelmsford rest stop spotted a woman in a pickup truck matching the description of the vehicle seen leaving the Maine road just before the grisly discovery. State Police responded and took McCrery into custody.
Relatives described McCrery as a troubled woman who had struggled with depression and once attempted suicide, and her child as a bright, blue-eyed boy who loved to read and never knew who his father was.
’’She loved that little boy,’’ McCrery’s mother, LuRae McCrery, said in a telephone interview from her Nebraska home. ’’Juli and Cam were so close. Her whole life was raising her son. That’s why I just can’t make sense of this.’’
After being taken into custody Wednesday morning, McCrery was kept at State Police headquarters in Concord for most of the day, said David Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police.
Late in the afternoon, McCrery walked out the back of the brick building, dressed in what looked like pajama bottoms and flanked by paramedics, who escorted her to Emerson Hospital for medical issues Procopio said were not urgent.
State Police in Maine had received more than 100 tips and assigned a dozen officers since Saturday, when a couple found the boy’s body, covered by a blanket, in a remote wooded section of South Berwick.
The discovery horrified and saddened residents of this town of about 7,000 on the New Hampshire border and bewildered police, who called on the public to help identify a blue Toyota Tacoma pickup truck seen on the road before the boy’s body was found.
The truck had some type of naval insignia, according to Maine State Police, who enlisted the help of the US Navy in the case.
McCrery is also the mother of a 23-year-old man, Ian, who is in the Navy and stationed on the USS Oak Hill in Norfolk, Va., according to McCrery’s former boyfriend, Robert Miller, who spoke by telephone on Wednesday.
McCrery made a living by delivering car parts for a company based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Miller said that when he last spoke with McCrery Tuesday, she did not mention that she was in New England. She said nothing about Camden or that anything was wrong, Miller said.
’’I asked her if they were coming back [to my place], and she said she didn’t know,’’ Miller said. ’’I just assumed she was at work.’’
But LuRae McCrery said that Miller later called the company and learned that Julianne McCrery had been fired about a month ago. She had been pretending to go to work, LuRae McCrery said.
’’I think she got to the end of her rope,’’ McCrery said.
Miller said that the mother and child had recently been suffering from a serious cough and that McCrery sounded ill on the phone.
McCrery’s mother said her daughter had also complained the two were ill, but in their phone conversations she made it sound as if she were still in Texas.
’’We’ve been talking every day,’’ she said. ’’I have no idea why she went to Maine. I don’t think she knew anyone in that part of the country. I don’t have a clue.’’
Miller, 49, who lives in Irving, said McCrery and her younger son moved in with him about two years ago. But McCrery would often leave for stretches of time after they would argue, Miller said.
She left for the last time a couple of months ago, but remained in the area. They had stayed in touch and talked about reconciling, Miller said.
’’I’m the only daddy [Camden] has ever had,’’ Miller said. ’’Her and I and [Camden] had a very strong faith in Christ. That’s why I know he’s in a better place, and I’m glad he’s there.’’
He said that the three of them regularly attended First Baptist Church Irving and that McCrery was baptized there about two years ago.
McCrery doted on her child, Miller said, reading to him and encouraging him to excel in school. The boy had been placed in the gifted and talented program in his kindergarten class at W.T. Hanes Elementary School in Irving, Miller said.
Several short videos McCrery posted show images of her young son straddling a tricycle or toddling around his room, a lollipop stuck to his blond hair.
In one video, Miller is seen pushing Camden as he tries to peddle his tricycle. His mother giggles from behind the camera.
’’You’re doing it!’’ his mother says, as her son beams. ’’I’m doing it!’’ he shouts.
If McCrery had anything to do with the boy’s death, Miller said, it was an accident.
’’She wasn’t capable of hurting him in any way whatsoever,’’ he said.
But McCrery had struggled with substance abuse and alcohol, and had tried to kill herself before Camden was born, Miller said.
’’She has been known to have bouts of depression,’’ LuRae McCrery said. ’’But she is very good at hiding it.’’
McCrery was arrested in 2003 on a prostitution charge and in 2004 for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, according to Dallas County court records. In both cases, the charges were dismissed after she completed probationary programs, records show.
McCrery self-published a book through a Canadian publisher titled, ’’Good Night, Sleep Tight: How to Fall Asleep and Go Back to Sleep when You Wake Up,’’ about a year ago.
A short biography for the book says McCrery was born in San Jose, Calif., in 1969 and moved to Dallas in the early 1980s.
’’Driving a school bus and then somehow graduating to a cement mixer certainly gave her character beyond her years and a definite need for a good night’s sleep!’’ the biography says.
McCrery did not know who Camden’s father was, her mother said. She had been married but divorced almost a decade ago.
The family is grief-stricken over Camden’s death, LuRae McCrery said.
’’He could read as well as any second-grader,’’ she said, her voice wavering with emotion. ’’Just a sweet little boy.’’
Prosecutors will begin extradition procedures to New Hampshire, a process McCrery can fight, Procopio said.
In South Berwick, residents, many of them crying and clutching their children, left toy cars, baseballs, and stuffed animals at a growing makeshift memorial at the scene.
’’My heart goes out to that little boy,’’ said Desiree Mix, 22, as she walked with her 1-year-old son along Main Street.
’’I just wish I had known that family and could have taken him in, knowing the circumstances,’’ Mix said. ’’There’s a lot of people that want kids and can’t have kids.
’’It’s too bad somebody had to go to that measure and do something like that.’’
Peter Schworm and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Cramer can be reached at email@example.com; Andersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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