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Inside a cramped Bucks County apartment, 5 family members dead in murder-suicide pact, survivors say

Authorities called it a grisly murder. The mother and daughter who were arrested called it a suicide pact they unintentionally survived.

The Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, where five members of a family were found dead on Monday afternoon.
The Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, where five members of a family were found dead on Monday afternoon.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Death came swiftly to Unit S7 in Morrisville’s Robert Morris Apartments, a cramped unit in a small town on a bank of the Delaware River. It was a crime so dark it gave pause to veteran investigators in Bucks County, who called it one of the worst in the area’s history.

Five family members — including three children — were found dead by a county caseworker late Monday in what investigators described as grisly murders, but what the mother and daughter charged in the crime called a suicide pact they unintentionally survived.

Shana S. Decree, 45, and daughter Dominique Decree, 19, each were charged Tuesday with five counts of homicide and one count of conspiracy in the deaths of Shana Decree’s sister, older daughter, teenage son, and twin 9-year-old nieces.

The women, in conflicting stories to police, said some of the victims were choked to death.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said the “atrocious” murders confounded investigators Tuesday as the two women were arraigned and sent to the county prison. They were denied bail because of the severity of the charges.

”As confusing as it was last night, we are no closer to understanding [the motive] in the harsh light of day,” Weintraub said Tuesday inside the county courthouse in Doylestown.

He identified the dead as Shana Decree’s children Naa’Irah Smith, 25, and Damon Decree Jr., 13, both of Morrisville; Shana Decree’s sister, Jamilla Campbell, 42, of Trenton; and Campbell’s twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen.

Weintraub said that gaining additional insight will be a “long, laborious process,” and that the cause and manner of their deaths likely won’t be available for a few weeks.

The bodies were discovered about 4 p.m. Monday, when a case worker from Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services went to the apartment for an unannounced visit, according to court documents. The caseworker had tried to contact the family on Saturday, police said, leaving a business card that remained, seemingly untouched, two days later. Her last contact with the family was Feb. 5, according to court records.

When no one answered her knocks, the caseworker enlisted the help of a maintenance man, who helped her gain access to the apartment. They were greeted by a horrific scene.

The two suspects were lying disoriented on a bed, surrounded by signs of chaotic struggle. Furniture was overturned, mirrors were smashed, and the closet doors in one of the three bedrooms had been ripped off their tracks, according to investigators. Family photos were scattered about.

Dominique Decree had wounds on her neck, police said, and was taken with her mother to Jefferson Bucks Hospital.

In a bedroom beyond, police officers found the five victims, grouped so tightly together around a bed that they initially only thought they saw four bodies.

Morrisville Police Chief George McClay said the five were likely killed between Saturday and Monday. He said officers from his department had been called to the apartment in recent weeks for minor issues, including noise complaints.

He said the quintuple homicide was one of the worst murder cases in Bucks County history. ”It’s the saddest case I’ve ever had,” he said.

While being treated at the hospital, Shana Decree initially told police that Jamilla Campbell’s boyfriend and two unknown males had killed everyone in the apartment except her and Dominique. She later recanted and told police that “everyone at the apartment, including the 9-year-olds and 13-year-old, wanted to die," and that everyone was “talking about suicide.”

Shana Decree confessed to killing 9-year-old Imani Allen, and said her sister Jamilla Campbell killed Imani’s twin, Erika. Campbell, she said, also killed Naa’Irah Smith, Decree’s 25-year-old daughter, and Campbell and Dominique Decree together killed 13-year-old Damon Decree Jr., according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.

Dominique Decree told detectives at the hospital a different version of events, all while repeatedly telling them of her “wish to die,” the affidavit said.

She admitted that she choked Jamilla Campbell, her aunt, to death. She said her mother killed Damon Decree Jr. and Naa’Irah Smith — her sister and brother, and her mother’s own children — and that her mother also killed Imani Allen. Dominique Decree said Jamilla Campbell choked the other twin to death.

Law enforcement sources said Tuesday night that Naa’Irah Smith and Jamilla Campbell and her children had moved into the apartment recently, at most a month ago.

Weintraub said investigators are not seeking any other suspects and promised that Shana and Dominique Decree would “be made to pay for their crimes."

Investigators continued to speak with family members Tuesday, including Joshua Campbell, Jamilla Campbell’s 17-year-old son, who left the apartment recently because of how crowded it had become — one law enforcement source said the teen said it was no longer “a happy home.” On Monday night, Campbell was found safe in Willingboro, where he was staying with friends.

County spokesperson Larry King declined to provide information on any involvement the victims had with Children and Youth, citing privacy policies related to active cases. Expanded information on contact the agency had with the family will likely be released at the end of any criminal prosecution, he said.

Weintraub declined to answer similar questions, and would not comment on whether there were any reported mental-health issues within the family.

Those who knew the victims reeled at the news, trying to make sense of the violence.

Destiny Harris sobbed when she learned that Imani and Erika, her 9-year-old half-sisters, had been killed just a few doors from where she lived in the same apartment complex.

“My heart,” she said, breaking into tears Tuesday. “I can’t breathe, to be honest.”

She had been checking on the family, she said, but all had seemed mostly normal. Harris said she paid regular visits to the family, but she was busy as a student at East Stroudsburg University.

The last time she saw her sisters, she said, was a week ago. The girls were going to turn 10 on Friday, and were looking forward to a trip to Walt Disney World.

Her sisters, Harris said, “were great kids. They were smart, and they loved everyone. They were the greatest kids.”

Nicole Owens was similarly stunned. She had last spoken to Shana Decree, her oldest daughter’s cousin, two weeks ago. Everything seemed fine at the time, Owens said. More recently, however, she grew worried after not hearing from the family for some time.

“They were a close-knit family, I don’t have anything bad to say in regard to who they were before this took place,” she said. “My heart is so heavy right now, and all I can do is just look back.”

She said Shana Decree had intermittent health problems, struggling with lupus, but showed no signs of stress, anger, or strange behavior that raised her suspicions. Owens said she didn’t know why the family was referred to a county caseworker.

“I think that we all need to say a prayer, because we don’t know what could take over our minds,” Owens said. “It takes someone with a sick mind to do something like that. You have to be sick to even want to take someone’s life.”

Damon Decree, Shana Decree’s son, was friends with her youngest daughter, Owens said, and they acted in plays together at Morrisville Middle/Senior High School.

The school sent a letter home to students’ families on Monday, offering counseling for those who knew Damon Decree or had been affected by his death.

One of the school’s alumni, Thai Hall, stood outside the Robert Morris complex Tuesday, paying respects to Naa’Irah Smith, an old classmate.

“Sweetest girl ever,” Hall said. “Kept to herself, spoke to herself, was with her boyfriend the majority of the time.”

“Always together,” Hall said. “He’s sweet, too. ... Very respectful, polite, caring.”

Hall looked over at the apartment where Naa’Irah Smith died.

“It broke my heart. It really did,” she said. “I was up all night, praying, praying.”

Inquirer staff writers Henry Savage and Mark Fazlollah contributed to this article.