Local, state and federal law enforcement officials said at a Thursday morning news conference they are still working to piece together the investigation surrounding the deaths of 34-year-old Shanann Watts and her daughters, 3-year-old Celeste and 4-year-old Bella.
But many questions remain about what might have led to the killings and when they occurred. Here’s everything we know so far:
Chris Watts charged with murder, claimed he killed Shanann when she was strangling kids
Chris Watts faces three counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first-degree murder – victim under 12/position of trust, one count of first-degree unlawful termination of a pregnancy, and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, according to Colorado court records and documents filed Monday afternoon.
He is next due in court Tuesday morning to learn the formal charges filed against him.
Chris Watts faces investigation on murder, tampering charges after alleged confession
Watts was taken to jail at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday after he was detained for questioning. Two law enforcement sources told Denver7 Watts had confessed to killing his wife and daughters. He faces investigation on one count of first-degree murder after deliberation; two counts of first-degree murder – position of trust; and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
Weld County prosecutors will have until Monday afternoon to file formal charges against Watts. The affidavit for his arrest, which was sealed Wednesday night as the police investigation continues, could be unsealed Monday if charges are filed, officials said Thursday. The unsealed affidavit would likely provide more details about what police know that led them to arrest Watts in the deaths of his family.
Law enforcement officials told Denver7 Friday that Chris Watts is in protective custody and being isolated from other inmates at the Weld County jail because of the publicity the case has received and say there is still several days of work to do before Monday’s deadline for charges to be filed.
New details at Thursday afternoon court hearing
At a 2:30 p.m. bond hearing, Weld County prosecutors said they believe Shanann and the girls were killed inside of the family’s home but did not say why they believe that. Prosecutors have a 3:30 p.m. Monday deadline to file charges, and Watts will learn what formal charges he might face at a 10:30 a.m. Tuesday court hearing. Watts will be held without bond pending his next court appearance.
Timeline surrounding disappearance: what we know
Frederick police on Wednesday confirmed some of the details surrounding Shanann’s disappearance that neighbors, friends and family have been talking about since Monday.
A friend of Shanann’s dropped her off at her home in Frederick around 2 a.m. Monday. She had been in Arizona on a work trip. But much of what we have learned about what happened afterward comes from an interview with Chris Watts himself, who has been arrested in his family’s deaths despite his claims he knew nothing about where they had gone.
He claimed that he last saw Shanann around 5:15 a.m. Monday when he left home. He told Denver7 that Shanann’s friend showed up to his door just after noon that day wondering where she and the girls were.
Police confirmed that the woman went to the home after Shanann missed a doctor’s appointment and that she first reported Shanann and her daughters missing.
Officers went to the home on a welfare check around 1:40 p.m. Monday and confirmed that the three were missing and that Shanann’s phone keys and purse were all left at the home.
Chris Watts stayed with family friends after Shanann, kids reported missing
Watts stayed with friends of the couple’s after Shanann and the girls were reported missing. He also coordinated media interviews, including one with Denver7, through them.
"We are so sorry we defended him. We feel stupid." -- Nick Thayer, apologizing for defending Chris Watts, who sources say confessed to killing his pregnant wife Shanann and children Bella and Celeste. They spent hours with Chris Monday & Tuesday & let him sleep in their home. pic.twitter.com/LcEdCwMDqI
Those friends, Nicholas and Amanda Thayer, told Denver7 Thursday they were horrified they let him stay in their home and apologized for backing Watts. Thayer said she had been told last week by Shanann that she had concerns of infidelity on Chris’ behalf.
In the interview, he tells a detailed version of what he claims happened when Shanann and their daughters Bella and Celeste went missing, including that he and his wife “had an emotional conversation” before he allegedly last saw her.
“I mean, she wasn’t here. The kids weren’t here. Nobody was here,” Watts claimed.
He also made a direct plea for Shanann and the girls to come home.
“Shanann, Bella, Celeste: If you’re out there, just come back. Like if somebody has her, just bring her back. I need to see everybody. … This house is not complete without anybody here. Please bring ‘em back,” he said.
You can watch the full interview by clicking here or analysis in the player embedded below.
Neighbors had mixed feelings about couple
Denver7 spoke with several neighbors this week who described the couple in various ways. One neighbor who didn’t want to be identified said they appeared to be a normal family. “I didn’t see anything negative in their relationship,” the person said of Shanann and Chris.
Another neighbor, Ann Watt, said she was in “absolute shock” at the killings, saying she had seen Shanann and the girls at the neighborhood pool. “I lost a lot of sleep over it last night,” Watt said.
Mike Hendrickson said he and his wife were “shocked” at the news that the family was missing. “They seemed like very quiet people and very nice, cordial people,” he said. “My wife would also say how much she admired [Chris] for the attention that he paid to those young ‘uns.”
But he said, before learning that Chris was arrested in connection with the case, that “something just doesn’t add up” after seeing the interview with Chris.
Anadarko said late Thursday morning that Chris was fired by the company on Wednesday.
“We are heart-broken by this, and our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones and friends of the Watts family. We will continue to support law enforcement in its investigation,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Brice said in a statement.
On Friday, the coroner's office announced they have positively identified the victims of the Frederick case as Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella Marie and Celeste Watts.
Bodies believed to be Chris Watts’ 2 young daughters located in ‘close proximity’ to mother’s body
Police said they will not disclose the location of where the bodies were recovered, but said they were located closed to the other body whom officers strongly believe is Shanann Watts. Her body was found on property owned by Anadarko Petroleum property earlier Thursday.
On Thursday evening, several high-ranking sources told Denver7's Jennifer Kovaleski that the bodies of the two young girls were found inside oil and gas tanks that "were mostly full." The high ranking sources told Kovaleski they believe Watts placed the bodies of 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste in the oil and gas tanks in order to conceal the smell from passersby.
Chris Watts' attorneys request for DNA samples suggest daughters were strangled
The implication came in a motion filed by defense attorneys in Weld County court to compel the coroner to take DNA from the necks and throats of the remains of Bella and Celeste. ABC News also reported the body of Shanann Watts, the mother of the little girls, was found in a shallow grave.
In the motion, DNA expert Richard Eikelenboom concludes that DNA evidence “would remain on the necks of the decedent children.”
Eikelenboom writes, “After samples are taken the nails should be cut preserved. I have a lot experience taking samples from dead bodies getting good results after strangulation.”
Eikelenboom is a forensic scientist who has claimed to be a DNA expert in trials in Colorado and across the United States, but was discredited two years ago in a 2013 sex assault case in Denver District Court.
The motion, which also indicates the children’s bodies were submerged in crude oil for four days, was dismissed by the judge.
Shanann previously worked for Children’s Hospital Colorado
Children’s Hospital Colorado said Thursday that Shanann had previously worked there but had left the hospital more than a year ago.
“We’re deeply saddened by the tragic death of a talented and highly respected former colleague and her two young daughters,” the hospital said in a statement. “Although Shanann had not worked at Children’s Hospital Colorado in more than a year, she is remembered fondly and we send our thoughts and prayers to her loved ones.”
Couple previously filed for bankruptcy
Background checks and court records relating to Shanann and Chris Watts also revealed they filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July 2015, and there was a civil claim filed in July of this year by the Wyndham Hill Master Association, the couple’s homeowner’s association, in Weld County court. Court records show there was a return date on a court summons set for Aug. 24 in that case.
Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant when she was killed, which has again inflamed discussion of whether an unborn child’s death should lead to murder charges.
There are 38 states that have fetal homicide laws on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, thought Colorado is not one of them. However, Colorado does have several criminal statutes that apply specifically to crimes committed against pregnant women. Perhaps chief among them is the state’s “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” statute, which is a class 3 felony.
“Under both Colorado statute as it’s interpreted by the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado case law, unless a child is born alive and is then killed after living independently from the mother, it’s virtually impossible to bring a homicide charge,” former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett told Denver7 in an interview Thursday.
He said that it seems extremely unlikely a fourth murder charge would be filed should prosecutors go that route.
“I don’t know the fact patterns of the case, but it will be virtually impossible to file a murder charge in connection with the death of the unborn child,” Garnett said. “Colorado requires that the child live outside of the mother’s womb independently and then be killed as a result of something that occurs then.”
But he said that the prosecutor overseeing the Watts case, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke, is an “excellent” DA and that he believes that it’s possible that unlawful termination of a pregnancy charges are brought against Chris Watts.
“The reality is a district attorney doesn’t charge a case based on public outcry, he charges it based on what the evidence is and what the law is,” Garnett said.
Shanann’s brother starts fundraisers for funeral expenses
Shanann’s brother, Frankie Rzucek, pointed out a fundraiser on Facebook created to help find the missing family that have now been turned into efforts to raise money for funeral expenses. Click here for more information about fundraisers and how to support the family.
“I’m not one to ask for donations or any kind of money I didn’t earn, but at this time we don’t know how long we will have to be in Colorado or what all were supposed to do about this tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’m so distraught and in shock with this sickening news … For all the people who are helping and donating may god bless you for helping a family in need.”
There is a candlelight vigil in front of the Watts home scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Denver7's Jennifer Kovaleski, Jaclyn Allen, Jace Larson, Tomas Hoppough and Stephanie Butzer contributed to this report.