Earlier in the week, mom was not herself

Friends and family members worried about Jeannette Michelle Hawes in the days leading up to the stabbing deaths of her two children.

But Ms. Hawes, 22, insisted she was fine.

On Thursday afternoon, Ms. Hawes took her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son into the bathroom of a convenience store and locked the door.

When sheriff's deputies -- called by a store clerk who heard screams inside -- finally forced it open, they found Ms. Hawes covered in blood, her son, Jordon Hawes, dead, and her daughter, Shakayla Hawes, dying.

Twenty-four hours earlier, her sister Sheranda M. Jenkins had sought help from the police, believing Ms. Hawes and her children were missing after a bizarre incident at the Augusta bus station.

Their mother called Ms. Jenkins on Wednesday morning and asked her to pick up Ms. Hawes at the bus station about 10 a.m., Ms. Jenkins told the Aiken Department of Public Safety. Detectives believe she had been in Atlanta but are still investigating where she went and who she saw.

Ms. Hawes at first refused to get off the bus with her children, insisting she had to go to Aiken, Ms. Jenkins told officers. Ms. Hawes finally relented when Ms. Jenkins offered to drive her and the children across the river.

For the next two hours, Ms. Hawes directed her sister to drive here and there, constantly changing her mind about where she wanted to go, according to Ms. Jenkins. When she stopped for gas at an Aiken station, Ms. Hawes wandered off with the children. Ms. Jenkins eventually found them at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Richland Avenue.

At the restaurant, Ms. Hawes refused to leave and insisted she was fine, her sister said. Ms. Jenkins left them but became concerned when she couldn't reach her sister on her cell phone. She filed a missing person report about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Detective Larry Schander followed up on the report and spoke with an assistant manager at KFC. The assistant manager remembered Ms. Hawes "acting weird, maybe like she was on drugs or something but she was taking care of the kids ..." Detective Schander wrote in his report.

He closed his investigation Wednesday evening when he learned Ms. Hawes and her children were found at her apartment in the 2500 block of Lumpkin Road in Augusta.

Jina Anderson, a neighbor of Ms. Hawes in Shadowood Apartments, said she had been acting stressed and depressed.

Ms. Hawes was no longer working as a temporary clerk at a post office processing and distribution center on Eighth Street, said Tina Freeberg, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Postal Services. She would not comment about why Ms. Hawes was no longer employed.

Tragedy struck Ms. Hawes early in life. She was about 10 years old when her sister, 14-year-old Nicole Hawes, was shot to death. Nicole was a victim of a November 1995 drive-by shooting in Underwood Homes.

Maj. Ken Autry, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, said Friday that Ms. Hawes is talking with investigators, but her comments about her children don't make much sense.

No one may ever know why the children were killed, he said.

Capt. Gene Johnson said Friday that Ms. Hawes was on suicide watch and would be interviewed by the jail's visiting psychiatrist.

Sam B. Sibley, the public defender for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, said his staff interviewed Ms. Hawes on Friday and determined she qualifies for an appointed attorney. Their first act was to request a court-ordered mental examination.

Mr. Sibley said they made the request because of the circumstances of Ms. Hawes' arrest.

Staff writers Sandi Martin, Tom Corwin, Greg Gelpi, Tim Cox, Mike Wynn and Adam Folk contributed to this article.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.