FREDERICK, Colo. (AP) — Colorado authorities prepared Friday to file formal charges against an oil and gas worker accused of killing his pregnant wife and two young daughters inside their suburban home, then dumping their bodies on his employer’s property.
Police said the mother, Shanann Watts, was found dead on property owned by Anadarko Petroleum, one of the state’s largest oil and gas drillers, where 33-year-old Christopher Watts worked as an operator. Investigators found what they believe are the bodies of 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste nearby on Thursday.
The operator position generally charges employees with routine visits to oil fields, checking on the status of wells, maintaining the equipment and fixing any issues. Watts was fired on Wednesday, the same day he was arrested, the company said.
The family’s two-story home is just outside Frederick, a small town on the grassy plains north of Denver, where fast-growing subdivisions intermingle with drilling rigs and oil wells.
According to a June 2015 bankruptcy filing, Christopher Watts had gotten a job six months earlier as an operator for Anadarko, and paystubs indicate his annual salary was about $61,500. Shanann Watts was working in a call center at a children’s hospital at the time, earning about $18 an hour — more for evenings, weekends or extra shifts she sometimes worked.
But the family remained caught between a promising future and financial strain from debt and other obligations.
The couple had a combined income of $90,000 in 2014. But they also had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, along with some student loans and medical bills — for a total of $70,000 in unsecured claims on top of a sizable mortgage.
They said in the filing that their nearly $3,000 mortgage and $600 in monthly car payments formed the bulk of their $4,900 in monthly expenses.
Police have not released any information about a motive or how the three were killed. Authorities did not immediately respond to messages Friday seeking information about exactly where the families’ bodies were found.
Details about what led police to arrest Watts late Wednesday night on suspicion of three counts apiece of murder and tampering with evidence likely were to be revealed next week.
Prosecutors also will ask a court to unseal the affidavit for Watts’ arrest after filing formal charges, due by Monday afternoon, said Krista Henery, a spokeswoman for district attorney Michael Rourke.
Henery declined to answer questions Friday about where the mother and daughters’ bodies were found or whether police still are processing that scene.
Family and friends of Shanann Watts are left searching for answers, trying to reconcile Watts’ cheery Facebook posts about her daughters, her pregnancy and her love for her husband with the pending charges.
Ashley Bell met Shanann Watts about two years ago, when the 34-year-old mother of two came into Bell’s new tanning salon in nearby Dacono. The two women quickly became friends, and before long they were texting or calling each other almost daily. Their daughters played together during salon visits.
Bell said she never detected that anything was amiss with the Watts family.
‘‘I just don’t understand it,’’ said Bell, who described Christopher Watts as a loving father.
Shanann Watts was from North Carolina, and her parents’ next-door neighbor, Joe Beach, said he saw her recently when she visited the neighborhood of modest homes in Aberdeen.
‘‘We were talking about general things, about how her two girls were doing and how life was out in Colorado. She didn’t give me an indication that there was anything wrong. She seemed pretty happy,’’ he said.
After his wife and daughters were reported missing and before he was arrested, Watts stood on his porch and lamented to reporters how much he missed them, saying he longed for the simple things like telling his girls to eat their dinner and gazing at them as they curled up to watch cartoons.
According to the Frederick Police Department, a 34-year-old pregnant woman and her two daughters are missing. Shannan Watts and her two daughters, a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old. Her purse, keys and phone was left at the house. We spoke to the husband @DenverChannel pic.twitter.com/W9Pq2p9C7X
— Tomas Hoppough (@Tomas_Denver7) August 14, 2018
He did not respond to reporters’ questions when he was escorted into the courtroom Thursday.
His attorney, James Merson with the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office, left the hearing without commenting to reporters and did not respond to a voicemail left at his office Thursday by The Associated Press.
The case has focused attention on Colorado’s lack of a law allowing homicide charges in the violent deaths of fetuses, which is the case in 12 states. Proposals to allow homicide charges in the violent deaths of fetuses in Colorado have been stymied by debate about how to avoid infringing on abortion rights.
Republican lawmakers last tried to change the law after a 2015 case in Boulder County. A woman named Dynel Lane was charged with attempted murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy for cutting open a pregnant woman’s belly and removing her unborn baby girl.
Prosecutors said they could not charge Lane with murder because a coroner found no evidence the infant lived outside the womb.
State law does allow a homicide charge if a fetus was alive outside the mother’s body and then killed. State lawmakers in 2013 also allowed prosecutors to add extra felony charges against anyone who commits a crime that causes the death of a fetus.
The law can add up to 32 years to a prison sentence. The top punishment for homicide in Colorado is the death penalty or life in prison.
Prosecutors have not discussed any additional charges Watts may face.
Drew reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Associated Press writers James Anderson, Colleen Slevin and Thomas Peipert in Denver, Courtney Bonnell and Michelle A. Monroe in Phoenix and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.