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Chris Watts in court.
Photo: Joshua Polson/AP
In August, Shanann Watts, 34, and her two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3, were reported missing from their Frederick, Colorado, home. The following day, Shanann’s husband Chris Watts gave an interview on the porch of his family’s home in which he begged for his pregnant wife and daughters’ safe return.
“If you’re out there, just come back. If somebody has her, just please bring her back. I need to see everybody. I need to see everybody again. This house is not complete without anybody here.”
Then, Chris was arrested and charged with murdering them. He ultimately plead guilty to felony charges relating to their murders, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Here’s a timeline of this horrific case.
Nickole Atkinson, one of Shanann’s close friends, told ABC News that she contacted the police on Monday, August 13, at around noon. Atkinson had dropped Shanann off at her house several hours earlier, at 2 a.m., after the two returned from a business trip together. Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant, didn’t respond to any of Atkinson’s calls or texts later that morning. Her friend said she also missed a doctor’s appointment to hear her fetus’s heartbeat. Atkinson became concerned, and went over to her house. No one answered the door, but Atkinson saw Shanann’s car was still in the garage.
Atkinson called Shanann’s husband, Chris, who told her not to worry about it, and that his wife had taken the girls to a play date.
“He just kept saying that he didn’t know where she was and that she was on a playdate. But he couldn’t give us the name of the friend,” Atkinson said. She told Chris she was calling the police for a welfare check, and he joined her at the house.
Inside, police found Shanann’s purse and keys, but she and the girls were nowhere to be found.
While police and canine units swept the property for clues about where Shanann and her girls may have gone, Chris spoke with a TV crew from Denver7. He confirmed that Shanann had gotten back from a business trip at 2 a.m. on Monday, and said that he went to work around 5:15 a.m., and hadn’t seen her since.
He added that he and his wife had an “emotional” conversation before she disappeared, but didn’t elaborate.
A Frederick Police Department official told Denver7 that law enforcement arrested Chris just after midnight on Thursday. He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and three counts of tampering with evidence.
At a press conference later that day, police said they found the body of a woman they believe to be Shanann on the property of Watts’s former employer, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. The girls’ bodies were reportedly recovered later that day.
According to CNN, a court filing from the prosecutor says that Shanann Watts’s body was “recovered from a shallow grave near an oil tank,” and that “law enforcement recovered the bodies of defendant’s two daughters from inside oil tanks located near the grave of their mother.”
An affadavit obtained by CNN later revealed police found Shanann’s body when they used a drone to survey the fields, and saw a bed sheet near the oil tanks.
“The sheet matched the pattern of several pillowcases and a top sheet recovered from a kitchen trash can from [Watts’] residence early that day,” the document said.
In his arrest affadavit, released on Monday by police, Chris claimed that he “went into a rage” and strangled Shanann after he saw her strangling one of their daughters on a baby monitor.
Chris told police that after she got back from her business trip at 2 a.m., he told Shanann he had been having an affair with a co-worker, and that he wanted to separate. (Though he had denied having an affair in previous police interviews, authorities said they carried out a two-day investigation that confirmed he was “actively involved in an affair with a co-worker” before the murders.)
He said he then saw Shanann on the baby monitor, strangling their 3-year-old daughter Celeste, and that when he ran into the girls’ room, he saw Bella, 4, already “sprawled out” on the bed, and blue. That’s when he says he strangled his wife to death before loading “all three bodies onto the back seat of his work truck.”
CNN reports that Chris was also charged with a total of nine criminal counts on Monday: three counts of first-degree murder, two separate counts of first-degree murder for killing a child under the age of 12, three counts of tampering with a body, and one count of first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
According to court documents, Chris and Shanann filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and were about $70,000 in debt. CNN also reports that a civil suit says they owed $1,533.80 to their homeowners association.
The Weld County district attorney Michael Rourke is not releasing many details of the case against Watts, and has said it is too early to know whether the state will press for the death penalty.
Shanann’s friend, Nickole Atkinson, told ABC she wasn’t “shocked” when Chris was arrested. “Anyone in their right mind will start piecing things together and think something had happened, but you don’t want to go there. You want to believe the best in people.”
“It’s really sad. It’s beyond belief, really,” another friend, Kris Landon, told People. “And it makes you wonder about other people you know. If this couple who seemed so perfect was like this, what are the other couples like?”
The Associated Press reports that Watts was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences on November 19, two weeks after pleading guilty to the murders of his two daughters and pregnant wife, and months after his arrest. According to USA Today, Watts plead guilty to nine felony charges relating to the murders.
At the sentencing hearing, Shanann Watts’ father said to Watts:”I trusted you to take care of them, not kill them. Prison is too good for you.”
The sentencing hearing also revealed that Watts strangled his wife, and smothered his two daughters. Watts previously claimed that he only killed his wife after discovering that his daughters were dead.
“This is perhaps the most inhumane and vicious crime that I have handled out of the thousands of cases I have seen,” presiding Judge Marcelo Kopcow of Colorado’s 19th Judicial District Court reportedly said. “Nothing less than a maximum sentence would be appropriate.”