Memphis Kids' Slaying Stuns Community: 'These Babies Automatically Have a One-Way Ticket to Heaven'

Shanynthia Gardner, 29, was taken to a mental health facility immediately following her court appearance Tuesday, officials tell PEOPLE

Photo: Source: Michael Quander WREG/Facebook

The Tennessee mother accused of murdering four of her children last week was taken to a mental health institute Tuesday, as stunned neighbors and community members prayed for her and her family – hoping something like this never happens again.

“We don’t know how it happened, what happened or the mechanics of it,” Pastor Jerry Taylor, of the Greater Love Baptist Church in Memphis, tells PEOPLE. “But we do know that it’s unnatural.”

Taylor, who took part in a prayer vigil Saturday at the Greens at Irene complex, where the children died, is continuing to counsel members of his church who live there.

“They are completely distraught because they have children as well that play in the complex,” he says. “It’s been a very emotional time.”

Shanynthia Gardner, 29, was arrested after authorities allege she slit the throats of four of her youngest children Friday in her apartment complex in suburban Memphis.

She is accused of murdering her four youngest children: 4-year-old Tallen Gardner; 3-year-old Sya Gardner; 2 year-old Sahvi Gardner; and 6-month old Yahzi Gardner, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. She allegedly confessed while on the phone with her husband, according to an affidavit filed in court by a sheriff’s detective and obtained by PEOPLE.

Gardner’s 7-year-old son, Dallen Clayton, fled the apartment unharmed the day of the slayings, according to the affidavit. He is now reportedly under protective supervision.

“There are so many unanswered questions,” Taylor, who is not Gardner’s pastor, but ministers in her community, tells PEOPLE.

“Whether it’s because of postpartum depression or mental health issues, we continue to keep the mom in our prayers and are trying to find out what we can do to eliminate any situation like this from ever coming up again,” he says.

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Gardner “was in her 20s and was having a child almost every year,” Taylor says. “That is a lot, but nothing can warrant something like this. We can be sympathetic when it comes to something like this. It can be hard raising children, but we can’t imagine something so horrible as this in spite of how devastating the times are in your life.”

What is most heartbreaking, he says, is that “these babies were innocent.

“But these babies automatically have a one-way ticket to heaven.”

‘She Didn’t Say a Word’

Gardner has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder associated with aggravated child abuse, four counts of first-degree murder in association with aggravated child neglect, and four more counts each of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment, according to court documents.

She appeared in court Tuesday, via video, for her arraignment. During her appearance, Gardner hung her head and failed to respond to questions from Judge Loyce Lambert Ryan.

Her arraignment was continued to July 11, a court official confirms to PEOPLE.

Immediately afterward, Gardner was taken to the Memphis Mental Health Institute, Shelby County Sheriff Spokesman Earle Farrell confirms to PEOPLE.

She did not enter a plea, he says, and he told the Associated Press he did not know what kind of treatment she would receive at the health facility.

While she was at the hearing “she didn’t say a word,” Earle says.

Attorney Craig Morton, of Memphis, told the judge he is representing Gardner. He did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Investigators are looking into whether she has mental health problems, according to the AP.

But a spokesman with the state’s Department of Child Services said they were “not aware of any contact with this family,” according to the AP.

Soon after the slayings last week, Clayton’s grandmother reportedly said the deaths were "the work of the devil".

“I forgive [Gardner]. I know this was not her,” Sonya Clayton told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I know this was the work of the devil.

“I love Shanynthia wholeheartedly still.”

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