Colorado mom Shanann Watts' friend told ABC News that her husband, Chris Watts, allegedly revealed — after Shanann vanished — that the marriage had issues
Credit: Shanann Watts/Facebook

It had only been a few hours since she last saw Shanann Watts alive when friend Nickole Atkinson called Watts’ husband early last week, wondering where she was.

As Atkinson recalled to ABC News, in an interview published Monday, she last saw Watts after dropping her off in Frederick, Colorado, about 2 a.m. on Aug. 13 following a work trip.

She watched Watts, 34, go into her house but did not hear from her again.

Later that day, she called Watts’ husband of about six years, 33-year-old Chris Watts, to ask if he knew what was going on.

That’s when, Atkinson said, Chris allegedly made a surprising disclosure.

“I didn’t find out that they were going to separate or anything like that until I called Chris that morning,” she told ABC. “When I called him and asked him where she was, that’s when he told me and I basically told him that that wasn’t my [concern] at that particular moment, because it wasn’t and that their business was their business, that they would either work it out or they wouldn’t.”

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Atkinson reported Shanann missing about 1:40 p.m. on Aug. 13, some 12 hours after dropping her off at home — the same place prosecutors believe she was likely murdered along with 4-year-old Bella Watts and 3-year-old Celeste Watts, the two young daughters she shared with Chris.

Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant at the time.

Causes of death for the three have not yet been released and investigators have not publicly discussed a motive, but Atkinson telling ABC about a possible split in the Watts’ marriage echoes what a family friend previously told PEOPLE: “[They] were having marital problems.”

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Another friend of the Watts, Amanda Thayer, told CBS News that Shanann had wondered if her husband was not concealing something.

“It came to her mind that possibly he could be cheating,” Thayer said.

Public records show the couple had experienced financial hardships in the past, including filing for bankruptcy in 2015, though Shanann’s more recent social media activity seemed to show a family who had returned to stability.

Chris was employed as an operator at an oil and gas driller while Shanann worked for a health and wellness company.

Shanann, who had previously said she was planning an upcoming sex reveal party for her third child before she was killed, “did not talk about leaving him or separating,” friend Atkinson told ABC.

“She very much loved her family and wanted to be a family.”

Shanann Watts (center) with her daughters

Chris was arrested on Wednesday night, before the bodies of his wife and kids were found the next day. (Authorities reportedly confirmed the identities of the remains on Friday.)

He remains in custody accused of first-degree murder and tampering with a body.

Before he was taken into custody, and while Shanann and the girls appeared to still be missing, Chris gave multiple news interviews pleading for their return.

He is expected to be formally charged this week. His attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.