‘I never saw that side of her.’ Family grieves as mom arrested in children’s stabbing deaths

062722 Rockmart, Ga..: A memorial is shown at the home of where three children died on Woodwind Drive, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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062722 Rockmart, Ga..: A memorial is shown at the home of where three children died on Woodwind Drive, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The arrest of a Paulding County mother following the deaths of three of her children has her family grieving and confounded.

Paulding County investigators say Darlene Brister stabbed five of her seven children on Friday night. Three were killed and a fourth was injured. Brister then set the family’s home on fire, according to her arrest warrant.

“I never saw that side of her,” Vicky Brister said of her daughter-in-law. “Never. I couldn’t tell you what would have led her to do something like that.”

A 911 caller reported a fire at the Woodwind Drive home in the Yorkville community, not far from the Polk County line, according to the Paulding sheriff’s office. Darlene Brister, 40, was arrested in the backyard.

Her husband, Ricky Brister, was returning from a trip to Louisiana and arrived to find the blaze, his mother said.

“He was on his way but didn’t make it on time,” Vicky Brister said.

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062722 Rockmart, Ga..: Crime scene investigators work the scene at the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

062722 Rockmart, Ga..: Crime scene investigators work the scene at the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
062722 Rockmart, Ga..: Crime scene investigators work the scene at the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Investigators, who were back at the home Monday, have not released details. Darlene Brister was charged with two counts of malice murder and was being held without bond Monday. The sheriff’s office said additional charges were expected after several agencies, including the GBI and local and state fire officials, complete their investigations. The Paulding County District Attorney’s office is also assisting with the investigation.

The youngest two children, 8-month-old Devonte and 3-year-old Donovan, died inside the home, the sheriff’s office said. The boys both had stab wounds. A third boy, 5-year-old Devin, died at the hospital from his injuries.

The GBI was conducting autopsies on the three children killed, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.

An 8-year-old boy, Dante, was critically injured and was expected to undergo surgery Tuesday, Vicky Brister said. The oldest two children in the home, girls ages 14 and 16, were able to jump out of their bedroom window, she said. The teens were not injured.

Vicky Brister said she had been on a trip to New York when she got the call about her son’s family. She then drove to Georgia, arriving Saturday.

Since then, she said, the family has been staying in a hotel in Rome. The surviving grandchildren and her son lost most of their belongings in the fire, prompting her to set up a GoFundMe page. She isn’t sure yet where the family will live, but is hoping she can stay to help them through the tragedy. No funeral arrangements have been made yet, she said.

“We’re here now trying to survive,” Vicky Brister said. “I’m putting everything in God’s hands.”

By Monday afternoon, a memorial to the children at the family’s mailbox had grown and included numerous stuffed animals, crosses, flowers and candles.

The deaths of the Brister children came nearly five years after a Gwinnett County mother stabbed her husband and five children, killing all but a daughter who survived.

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062722 Rockmart, Ga..: A crime scene investigator leaves the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

062722 Rockmart, Ga..: A crime scene investigator leaves the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
062722 Rockmart, Ga..: A crime scene investigator leaves the home on Woodwind Drive where three children died, Friday in Paulding County, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Rockmart, Ga.. The mother of the children, Darlene Brister, 40, is charged with two counts of malice murder following the deaths. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Isabel Martinez was arrested following the deadly attack. The day after her arrest, Martinez smiled and gave a “thumbs up” sign in a courtroom, telling a judge she didn’t need a lawyer. Family members and neighbors said Martinez had mental health issues, and the death of her father had fueled a deep depression.

In April 2019, Martinez pleaded guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to life in prison.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigations division tip line at 770-443-3047. Tipsters can also use the Sheriff’s Office’s mobile app.