Brother-Sister Deaths

Lisa R. Snyder is led from the Berks County, Pa. State Police Barracks in Hamburg, Pa., Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, following her arraignment for murder charges in the September hanging deaths of two of her children in their Albany Township, Berks County, home.

The 911 call sent first responders racing to a modest brick house in rural Pennsylvania on the afternoon of Sept. 23.

A mother said she had just found her 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter unresponsive in their basement - both hanging from the ends of a dog lead wrapped around a support beam. The boy, she reportedly told a dispatcher, was being "bullied and has made threats of doing this, but didn't want to go alone."

But Lisa Rachelle Snyder's explanation for the tragic deaths of her young children, Conner and Brinley, never sat well with authorities.

"It would be safe to say that we immediately had questions," Berks County District Attorney John Adams said at a news conference Monday. "Eight-year-olds, generally, that I am aware of, do not commit suicide, so of course we had questions."

Now, after months of investigating, officials believe they have gotten to the bottom of a shocking incident that has rocked the Albany Township community, about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The siblings didn't hang themselves, investigators allege - they were murdered by their mother.

On Monday, Pennsylvania State Police arrested Snyder at her home and charged her with killing Conner and Brinley. The 36-year-old has also been accused of endangering the welfare of children, among other charges, and is being held without bail at Berks County Prison, according to court records. Snyder's attorney could not be reached for comment early Tuesday.

While Adams said Snyder maintains that her children killed themselves, she also "had expressed to a friend that she had had enough." He added that Snyder allegedly Googled methods of killing and had recently purchased the dog lead used in the deaths.

"I don't know that there's any explanation for her behavior at all," Adams said. "I don't think that I can stand up here, nor can anyone, and explain the horrific loss of two innocent children's lives."

When first responders entered the basement of the Snyder home shortly after 4:40 p.m. on that September day, they found the brother and sister hanging three feet apart, suspended from what police described as "a single wired dog lead with vinyl coating and ends containing swivel eye snap hooks," according to a copy of a criminal complaint obtained by the Morning Call. Beneath the children were two wooden dining room chairs that had been knocked over, authorities said.

Conner and Brinley were swiftly airlifted to a nearby hospital. Three days later, they were taken off life support and pronounced dead within 14 minutes of each other, Lehigh Valley Live reported.

Autopsies determined that the children had died by hanging, and no drugs were found in their systems, Adams said Monday.

At first, Snyder was willing to talk to authorities. In two interviews during the investigation's early stages, Snyder reported that her son "had been bullied," adding that he "told her on multiple occasions that he wanted to die," according to the complaint. Snyder said that days before she found him in the basement, Conner had told her, "I woulda killed myself already but I am scared to go by myself." Snyder allegedly added that she suspected Conner had his sister with him "so that they could go together," authorities wrote.

"He is overweight, has a speech delay, he needs the extra help, a little slower to grasp things, kids make fun of him because he is fat," Snyder told police.

Snyder said her son had been having issues at school since the first grade. At the time of Conner's death, he was a third-grader at Greenwich-Lenhartsville Elementary School, the Morning Call reported in October.

"He tells me he hates school, every day he tells me he doesn't want to talk about school," Snyder told investigators, indicating the child was bullied on the bus. "He just comes home and he is just angry."

After school on Sept. 23, Snyder recalled Conner asking his sister if she wanted to build a fort, adding, "They play downstairs in the basement all the time," the documents said. Snyder said Conner then asked her if he could take the kitchen chairs and the dog lead she had just picked up that morning, according to police.

Thinking that her children were playing, Snyder told authorities she did some laundry, and later went outside with her dog for approximately 10 minutes. When she came back inside, she said she went to see what her kids wanted for dinner and found the grisly scene.

Snyder told police she first tried to get her children down herself, but couldn't and promptly went to get help. Authorities allege Snyder "never returned back to the basement" after calling 911.

"We all may think that a mother whose children are found hanging would make every effort possible to save them," Adams said during Monday's news conference. "That was not done in this situation,"

It didn't take long for Snyder's story to start to unravel, police said.

Hours after Snyder reported discovering her children, police searched the home and collected the dog lead used for the hangings, which was labeled "super" and "250 lbs," according to the complaint. Adams told reporters that Snyder's dog, reportedly a husky-pit bull mix, weighed only about 50 pounds.

Additional interviews with people close to the Snyder family and school employees cast further doubt on the mother's claim of suicide, Adams said.

"There was no evidence of bullying," Adams told reporters Monday, citing information provided by family members, numerous school officials and classmates. "The only person that ever indicated that someone was bullied, that being Conner, was the defendant."

An occupational therapist who worked with Conner also told investigators that it would have been "extremely difficult" for the 8-year-old, who struggles with "poor dexterity," to carry out the hangings alone. Adams said Conner's disability made it challenging for him to tie his shoes, so the child "most likely" couldn't have opened the clasp of the dog lead.

Through another witness, police learned that three weeks before the incident, Snyder had talked about being depressed and said she "does not care anymore about her kids," the complaint alleged. Berks County Children and Youth Services had taken Conner and an older brother away from Snyder in 2014, the Morning Call reported. Adams said the children were returned to their mother in February 2015, but declined to provide further details about the situation.

Then, in October, investigators gained access to Snyder's Google searches.

On Sept. 17, she looked up "carbon monoxide in car how long to die," police said.

That same week, she Googled the "best episodes" of a crime documentary series that chronicles true stories about criminals who avoided arrest or capture for years, but were ultimately brought to justice, the complaint said.

The day before Conner and Brinley were found, police said Snyder allegedly searched "hanging yourself," and visited a website that "describes an effective way of hanging a person using a short drop/simple suspension."

During the Monday news conference, Adams applauded investigators for their "relentless effort to obtain the truth of what took place here."

"Anytime that any of us have to investigate, prosecute cases that involve the abuse or death of an innocent child, it all hits us in the heart and it is very emotional for all of us," he said. "To have two children taken at such a young age, what appears to be two very innocent children, it's just not right and it's not fair."

Snyder was charged with two counts each of first and third-degree murder, as well as endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with evidence, according to court documents. She was also accused of sexual intercourse with an animal and animal cruelty after police discovered explicit Facebook messages about her dog performing sexual acts on her. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9.

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