Everything We Know About the Killings of Pregnant Mom Shanann Watts and Her Daughters
Shanann Watts and daughters Bella and Celeste vanished from Frederick, Colorado — two days later, husband Chris was accused of murdering them
Likely in what was one of last times anyone saw Shanann Watts alive, she returned from a business trip with a friend early on Aug. 13 and walked into her home, in Frederick, Colorado.
In the days between his wife’s reported disappearance on Monday and his arrest in their deaths Wednesday night, Chris gave multiple local news interviews where he spoke out as a grieving — even traumatized — husband.
Now he sits behind bars, charged with three counts of first-degree murder, among other crimes.
Here’s what we know about the case so far.
Shanann & Her Girls Vanish
Shanann, 34, and her daughters, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste, were missing for four days before authorities announced that all three were found dead.
Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant when she disappeared, according to investigators. She and her daughters were last seen in the Frederick area, where the family lived.
A friend of Shanann’s told local TV station KDVR that she dropped Shanann off at her house early on Monday, around 2 a.m., after they returned from a business trip — but then she called police later that day after not hearing from Shanann again.
According to authorities, Shanann was reported missing about 1:40 p.m.
One of Shanann’s friends reportedly wrote on Facebook that she left her phone, purse, car seats and her children’s medicine at home.
Authorities initially said that Shanann, Bella and Celeste could be in danger and their suspicions were confirmed when Chris was arrested Wednesday night in connection with all three deaths. In addition to first-degree murder, he is accused of tampering with a dead body and unlawful termination of a pregnancy in the first degree.
Shanann’s body was found on Thursday in a “shallow grave” on Anadarko Petroleum Corporation’s property, an oil and gas company where Chris, 33, had worked until reportedly being fired the same day he was arrested.
The remains of Bella and Celeste were located later Thursday, hidden in oil tanks near Shanann’s body, officials said.
A Grieving Husband?
Chris initially told news station KUSA that he was “hoping right now that she’s somewhere safe.”
Speaking with station KDVR, Chris said his “heart [was] racing a mile a minute.”
“It’s not something I could ever, ever fathom would happen in my lifetime, and I have no inclination of where she is,” he said. “She said she was going to a friend’s house with the kids and that’s the last thing I heard, and that was it. It was very vague.”
Chris also shared his apparent concerns when speaking with KMGH on Tuesday, saying then that his wife returned from a work trip early on Aug. 13 and that he left for his own job about three hours later.
“When I came home, walked in the house, nothing — vanished,” he said. “Nothing was here: She wasn’t here, the kids weren’t here, nobody was here.”
Addressing the camera directly, he said, “Shanann, Bella, Celeste, if you’re out there, just come back. If somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody, I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”
Death Inside the Home
On Thursday, prosecutors revealed that they believe Shanann and her daughters were murdered inside their home, but they declined to say more.
Speaking with KUSA before the bodies were found, Chris said their house had been scarred by the apparent disappearances.
“Like, this house is not the same. Last night was traumatic,” he said. “Last night was — I can’t really stay in this house again with nobody here.”
At his hearing on Thursday, Chris was ordered held without bond. He is next scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to be advised of his formal charges.
His attorney did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Social Media Shows a Bustling Family
Before her slaying last week, Shanann was an active social media user and extensively documented her work and the life of her young family across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
She had been employed Le-Vel, a health and wellness company best known for Thrive, a series of supplements and other health products marketed as a “lifestyle system to help you experience peak physical and mental levels.”
Chris had worked at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, they confirmed to PEOPLE. While a company spokeswoman declined to specify when he worked there or in what position, public records show he had been an operator after being hired around early 2015.
Shanann’s Facebook page shows she and Chris were apart much of the summer. In June, July and a portion of August, she and the daughters spent six weeks in North Carolina with her family.
They returned home to Colorado on Aug. 7. Shanann was home Aug. 8 and Aug. 9, then left for Scottsdale, Arizona, for a work trip, according to her Facebook. She got back on Monday.
Friend Talks Marital Problems
One friend told ABC News this week that Chris had grown distant before the triple homicide: “He wasn’t being the loving Chris that he normally was. He wasn’t touching or hugging or doing stuff like that.”
It is unclear when the couple’s relationship became troubled, but in earlier social media posts, Shanann expressed her love for her husband — calling him “my amazing supportive hubby” in one Facebook post and, on Instagram, “my best friend, my soul mate.”
On Valentine’s Day, Shanann wrote on Instagram, “I love this man more than words can say! He’s my Rock, my love, my biggest fan, supporter and my husband! I couldn’t of hand picked a better man to call my husband and father to our girls!”
After reading the post, one of Shanann’s friends commented that she had a “storybook” life.
However, a family friend previously told PEOPLE that there was marital discord between Chris and Shanann and public records show they had faced financial issues in the past, including a bankruptcy in 2015.
More recently, it seemed, the family had returned to financial stability, the Denver Post reported, citing social media posts about their extensive travels.
Family Shares Grief and Torment
Shanann’s relatives have declined to comment to PEOPLE, saying they were not ready to speak, but in a statement to local media some of them shared their turmoil:
“It is with deep hurt, confusion and anger to confirm our beautiful cousin Shanann Watts, her unborn child, and her two angelic daughters, Bella (4), Celeste (3) were viciously murdered by husband Chris Watts; who confessed to the killings. Please keep Shanann’s parents and brother in your prayers.”
(Authorities have not publicly confirmed or denied allegations that Chris confessed.)
On Facebook, Shanann’s brother, Frank Rzucek Jr., spoke even more directly, writing in one post: “I just want 30 seconds alone with that heartless psychopath.”
“My blood is boiling,” he wrote. “Nothing absolutely nothing would get in my way of taking away his life like he did mine and my ENTIRE FAMILY.”
In a later post, Rzucek grieved for the deaths of his sister and his nieces: “My sister and nieces meant the absolute world to me. They made me strive to be an even better man. … I wish I could go back in time and be there to keep you safe from harm. Sorry uncle couldn’t save you.”
According to her brother, at the time of her death, Shanann was pregnant with a boy to be named Niko.
What We Still Don’t Know — and What the Husband Says Happened
Causes of death have not yet been released, but an arrest affidavit for Chris that was unsealed Monday shows that he claimed he killed Shanann after watching her strangle one of their daughters.
He contended that he and Shanann had talked about him wanting to separate after she got back from her trip on Aug. 13 but then he “walked downstairs for a moment” and when he got back to their bedroom he saw, via a baby monitor, that daughter Bella was “sprawled” and “blue” on her bed — apparently already dead — while Shanann was allegedly “actively strangling Celeste,” the affidavit states.
At that point, Chris claimed, he “went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death” before loading “all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck,” according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also states that, before he made this startling allegation, authorities confirmed Chris was “actively involved” in an affair with a coworker. (Investigators have not commented on what they suspect to be the motive for the murders.)
Speaking at a makeshift memorial last week outside the Watts’ home, friend Ashley Bell said she saw no signs of tension in Chris and Shanann’s relationship, describing them both as loving parents.
The triple slaying shattered that certainty, according to ABC News.
Bell said, “I just don’t understand it.”
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK