A Deptford Township woman fatally slashed the throat of her 6-year-old son yesterday morning and then took the knife to her own neck.
Martina Harding, 42, of the 700 block of Dartmouth Drive, was arrested and charged with murdering her son, Jared, according to Gloucester County prosecutors. Last night, she was at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, recovering from surgery for a throat wound that was not life-threatening.
Police said they knew of no motive. "It's a complete mystery," said Detective Sgt. George Johnson of the Deptford police.
Yellow police tape surrounded the leaf-covered front yard. Two cars, one with a flat tire, sat in the driveway; blue surgical gloves were on the front lawn.
Police recovered a 13-inch knife that they believe was used to kill the boy, said Bernie Weisenfeld, spokesman for the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office. A legally registered handgun also was found in the home.
Christian Harding, Martina's husband and Jared's father, was home at the time of the stabbing and was cooperating in the investigation, police said.
Police said they had not previously been called to the address for any violence.
Neighbors said that they thought Christian Harding was unemployed, and that Martina Harding may have recently been told she would be laid off from her job at a department store.
The Hardings' 9-year-old daughter called 911 just after 7:30 a.m., according to police at the scene.
About 10 Deptford police cars arrived almost immediately on the normally quiet street, neighbors said.
"It took place in the downstairs living-room area," Johnson said. He said Martina Harding had cut herself before police arrived.
"Knowing her like I did, I never would have guessed this," said Rob Costello, 38, a neighbor. He described the family as "nice people" who mostly kept to themselves. "It's a tragedy."
Costello said he had watched as paramedics, performing CPR, brought Jared Harding out on a stretcher. He said one police officer, visibly shaken, had been down on one knee as the ambulance left.
The boy was taken to Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, where he died. An autopsy yesterday afternoon confirmed that the cause of death was the throat wound.
The daughter has been placed in the care of the Division of Youth and Family Services, Johnson said. "They make that decision," he said. "It was not a police decision."
Jared Harding was a first grader at the Pine Acres Early Childhood Center in Deptford. He was described as an average, "high energy" 6-year-old who was often seen playing in the front yard.
A message on the school's Web site said the district was "deeply saddened over the tragic loss of one of our children" and directed parents to information on counseling services.
It noted that counselors would be available at Pine Acres and the Oak Valley School, which the daughter attends, when schools reopen in January.