Conn. day care workers: Grandmother of 2 boys found dead was chatty, normal at pick up time

  • Article by: PAT EATON-ROBB and MICHAEL MELIA , Associated Press
  • Updated: February 28, 2013 - 5:13 AM

This photo released by the Connecticut State Police during an Amber Alert Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, shows Alton Dennison, 6, left, and Ashton Denison, 2 months old, right, who were taken from their daycare by their grandmother Tuesday afternoon. State police said the bodies of Ashton and Alton Perry and their grandmother, Debra Denison, 47, were found dead Tuesday night in Preston, Conn. Connecticut state police are calling the shooting deaths a double murder-suicide and say she had permission to pick them up from their daycare.

Photo: Uncredited, Associated Press - Ap

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NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. - Debra Denison chatted with day care workers as they helped load her two grandsons into her van.

It had been a day full of smiles and cupcakes for 2-year-old Alton Perry, who was celebrating his birthday, and nothing seemed amiss, said Nikki Salaun, the director of the Kidds & Co. day care.

But instead of taking the children home as planned, Denison vanished Tuesday and left behind a suicide note. After a frantic search, she and her grandsons, 2-year-old Alton Perry and 6-month-old Ashton Perry, were found shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide.

"We've all gone over it in our heads," Salaun said. "Did she say something that we could have picked up on? But no, there was nothing alarming."

Relatives said Denison had struggled with mental health problems, but family and friends were left struggling to understand what could have prompted the violence.

"She would go along and have seasons where everything was A-OK, and other times when she would be depressed, running to the doctor and getting prescriptions," said Marcia White, a paternal great-grandmother of the slain boys. "She seemed to be doing well."

The boys' parents told WVIT-TV that Denison had split personalities and family members told WFSB-TV that she had bipolar disorder.

The bodies of 47-year-old Denison and the boys were found in a car parked near Lake of Isles in Preston, in the southeastern corner of Connecticut, a town over from the boys' day care center in North Stonington.

Denison had been to the day care before and was on a list of people authorized to pick up the children.

Denison's daughter, Brenda Perry, the boys' mother, had worked at the center several years ago. She now works at a local school and her husband, Jeremy, was a landscaper, Salaun said.

Salaun and day care center co-owner Christine Hare had attended Perry's baby showers and weren't surprised when she enrolled her boys there in October.

"Those boys were her world," Saloun said. "She coveted her family. Those boys were everything."

Alton, with his piercing blue eyes, was always smiling behind his ever-present pacifier, Hare said. He was nicknamed "the greeter" at the day care because he always went to meet visitors at the door while other children hung back.

Their mother had brought in mini-cupcakes for the toddler room to celebrate his birthday. She told staff that Denison would be picking up the children.

Salaun and Hare said that they were aware Denison had some mental health issues in the past but that she was friendly and talkative Tuesday.

"Brenda obviously put her on the list thinking she would be OK," Hare said. "We go with the parents. We can't override their wishes. Obviously, if she had come here obviously distraught, we would have intervened."

After helping Denison to her van with the children, the staff discovered she had taken the wrong car seat. When they couldn't reach her by phone, they alerted Perry, who contacted police. The bodies were found at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, about two hours after state police issued a statewide Amber Alert.

As state police were searching, they learned that Denison had left her home armed with a revolver and they found a suicide note.

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