Police searched from Medford to Montauk, but it was too late

One Year Later, Mother Who Allegedly Killed Twin Toddlers Remains in Jail




June 27 marks the first anniversary of the arrest of Tenia Campbell, the Medford women who allegedly admitted to police, as well as to her mother in a phone conversation at the time, that she murdered her twin two-year-old daughters, before she was found in Montauk.

Campbell, a 25-year-old whose family said she struggles with mental health issues, remains in the county jail in Riverside, where she was remanded without the possibility of bail due to the seriousness of the charges. Her next scheduled court date is Thursday, June 25, two days before the anniversary. Due to COVID-19, her court conference will likely be conducted via teleconference.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said Campbell suffocated her daughters, Jaida and Jasmine Campbell, though they never publicly revealed how or exactly where the murders took place.

A grand jury indicted her on two counts of murder in the first degree for allegedly killing multiple victims, and two counts of murder in the second degree, for allegedly intentionally killing her twin daughters.

Campbell faces life without parole if found guilty on the first-degree murder charges, or 25 years to life on the second-degree murder charges.

On June 27, a Thursday, around 2 p.m., Campbell’s mother, Vanessa McQueen, dialed 911 from her Mastic Beach home. She had received a hysterical call from her then 24-year-old daughter, who reportedly told her, “I am going to kill myself and my babies.”

McQueen called police from her house phone, keeping her daughter on the line on her cellphone. When the mother asked Campbell about the toddlers, she was reportedly told, “They are already dead, I killed them with my bare hands.”

A massive search ensued. Police departments across Suffolk County searched for the 2001 green Chrysler Town and Country minivan Campbell was driving. Campbell repeatedly told her mother that she was driving to the beach and was going drown herself, according to McQueen’s statement to the police. Police also searched for Campbell’s 4-year-old son. He was found safe with his father, who is not the father of twins.

About two hours later, an East Hampton Town police officer spotted Campbell’s minivan at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt County Park in Montauk, which is roughly halfway between downtown Montauk and the Montauk Lighthouse. Campbell was walking towards Montauk Highway when a squad car pulled up.

Campbell allegedly begged the responding officers to shoot her.

After taking her into custody, officers then made the gruesome discovery: The 2-year-old toddlers, strapped into their car seats in the minivan’s back seat — lifeless.

Emergency personnel tried to resuscitate the girls and rushed them to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, where they were pronounced dead. They had likely been dead before their mother arrived in Montauk.

Jaida and Jasmine had turned two in April of 2019. Pictures of them dressed in matching purple, pink, and blue tutus, wearing lavender headbands with floral appliques and holding lollipops showed how their mother marked the milestone.

But the picture her mother painted for police of their final days was quite different. Campbell, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder as a teenager, grappled with depression and anxiety, and had been “very irrational and extremely upset” in the 10 days leading up to her granddaughters’ deaths.

Her attorney, John Halverson, has indicated previously that her mental health would be a major part of his defense for his client, for whom he entered a plea of not guilty during her arraignment in the State Courthouse in Riverside. Halverson, a private attorney, was appointed by the county to represent Campbell because she is indigent. Halverson is on a select list of attorneys who the county deems qualified to represent a client facing such serious charges.

Mental health doctors have examined Campbell during her time in jail. As with almost all cases in courthouses across the state, the process has been frozen for the past couple of months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The story of filicide, of twins no less, touched people around the county.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo at the time said that he was proud of how his officers handled a tragic situation, relying on training, including defensive tactics and de-escalation. Unfortunately, it was too late for the girls.

It had already been a difficult month for the department, starting with the murder of Robert Casado in Kirk Park on June 6, 2019 — the first in East Hampton Town in a decade and the first in Montauk in 22 years. Just one week earlier, Joseph A. Grippo was charged with Casado’s murder. His case also remains pending.

t.e@indyeastend.com

taylor@indyeastend.com