S.F. mother accused of killing 2 daughters recently lost a son in childbirth, seemed depressed and paranoid

Mourners placed a memorial outside the home where authorities say Paulesha Green-Pulliam killed her two young daughters.

Mourners placed a memorial outside the home where authorities say Paulesha Green-Pulliam killed her two young daughters.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

The San Francisco mother charged with killing her two daughters days before Christmas in their Bayview-Hunters Point home appeared to be struggling with her mental health after losing a son during childbirth months earlier, according to records obtained by The Chronicle.

San Francisco police arrested Paulesha Green-Pulliam last month after discovering the bodies of 5-year-old Justice and 1-year-old Paragon in the family’s walk-in closet. A box of keepsakes from their late brother had been placed on their chests — including a birth certificate, a handprint and footprints, and a pregnancy test, the new documents show. Sonogram photographs of the boy lay on the floor nearby.

Green-Pulliam’s boyfriend, the father of the two girls, told police that she had suffered from undiagnosed postpartum depression since their son’s death and had made paranoid comments like “They following us” and “They tappin’ my phone!” He told officers that she may have tried to kill herself shortly before the grisly discovery.

The Chronicle is not naming the girls’ father because he is not identified as a suspect. He did not reply to interview requests. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office declined to comment. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which has not released a cause of death for the two girls, also declined to comment.

Paulesha Green-Pulliam appears for an arraignment hearing in the case of the deaths of her two daughters.

Paulesha Green-Pulliam appears for an arraignment hearing in the case of the deaths of her two daughters.

Stephen Lam, Staff Photographer / San Francisco Chronicle / Pool

In a statement, Green-Pulliam’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Phoenix Streets, confirmed the death of her son.

“This case is incredibly tragic, and we have deep empathy for Ms. Green-Pulliam, who just a couple months prior to this incident lost her child during childbirth,” Streets said. “We are looking into all the circumstances leading up to the December incident. It is still very early in this case, and we have not received all the evidence from the District Attorney’s Office. Our office will continue to vigorously defend Ms. Green-Pulliam against these charges.”

Police discovered the girls’ bodies during a welfare check on Dec. 23. According to court and arrest records, Green-Pulliam, 34, admitted to killing her daughters. A week after her arrest, Green-Pulliam, who was charged with two counts of murder and held in San Francisco County jail without bail, pleaded not guilty. At the arraignment, Streets requested that she undergo medical and psychological examinations.

Postpartum depression affects about 1 in 9 new mothers, according to the federal Office of Women’s Health. It can begin during pregnancy and is marked by depressive episodes, loss of appetite and feelings of worthlessness.

A related condition, postpartum psychosis, is a rarer condition associated with up to four new mothers out of every 1,000 births, according to the federal office. Symptoms can include hallucinations, rapid mood swings, paranoia, confusion and thoughts of hurting oneself or one’s baby.

Postpartum psychosis is a treatable condition, and most mothers who receive treatment are able to successfully parent their children. In extreme, headline-grabbing cases, mothers with postpartum psychosis have killed their children. In 2001, Texas mother Andrea Yates confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub after hallucinating that Satan wanted them dead and that she could save them from hell.

Court outcomes in such cases vary. Prosecutors often don’t accept postpartum psychosis as a legitimate mental illness, and states vary in defining a mother’s mental state and how it may be used as a defense.

Cara Angelotta, a forensic psychiatrist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine with expertise in reproductive psychiatry and experience treating women with postpartum psychosis, said identifying a mother with the condition can be difficult.

The delirium is “waxing and waning,” she said. A mother could act “normal” one moment and then be overcome with voices the next. That variability has complicated cases in which prosecutors try to prove a mother knew right from wrong and thus is legally sane.

The depression and psychosis can both occur when a child is born healthy, Angelotta said, but “losing a baby would be a risk factor.”

The Chronicle obtained the 17-page police report and two San Francisco Family and Child Services reports through the California Public Records Act. These documents show that Green-Pulliam told police she had believed her daughters were in danger and that she may have suffered from hallucinations.

After being placed in a patrol car the morning of her arrest, Green-Pulliam told an officer that she killed her daughters to prevent them from being sexually trafficked, according to the report. “I should have let that happen rather than take their life,” the report says the mother told the officer. “I’m sorry.”

Green-Pulliam, her boyfriend and their two children moved into their blue-and-gray paneled apartment on Navy Road in August, records show. In September, Green-Pulliam gave birth to their third child, a boy who died at the hospital after swallowing his own feces in the womb, the boyfriend told police. It is not uncommon for a baby to swallow its first byproducts, called meconium, but it is rarely fatal.

The boyfriend “believed that Green-Pulliam was going through post-partum depression however she was not diagnosed,” an officer wrote in the report.

In a critical incident review filed on the day the children’s bodies were found, a Family and Children’s Services agent stated, “It appears that the mother has mental health issues.”

That report indicated there was no abuse history involving Green-Pulliam, her boyfriend and their daughters. It is unclear whether Green-Pulliam had a history of mental illness. A decade ago she faced charges of commercial burglary and petty theft, in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties respectively, but neither case appeared to involve violence.

On the morning of Dec. 21, the boyfriend left the city for a couple of days to celebrate his birthday with friends. He spoke to Green-Pulliam that afternoon by phone and later told police that “nothing seemed out of the ordinary or suspicious.” The father said he attempted to call Green-Pulliam multiple times over the next couple of days but his phone was having issues and the calls did not go through. He returned home to their apartment on Dec. 23 shortly after 7 a.m.

He said the front door was locked and that Green-Pulliam had the only key, so he knocked on the door and window repeatedly. After 15 minutes, Green-Pulliam answered the door and her eyes were “buck” wide open, the boyfriend told police. He said he found it odd that his children did not run to the door to greet him.

“Where my kids at?” he asked his girlfriend, according to the police report.

“Uh, I have something to tell you,” she responded. “Uh, they gone.”

Increasingly angry, the boyfriend continued to ask the whereabouts of their children, an officer reported.

“Uh, they came and got them,” the mother responded, physically restraining her boyfriend from searching the apartment.

But the father eventually found his daughters in a hallway closet on a built-in bench, covered in a blanket as if sleeping, the box of keepsakes on top of them. A foamy substance was coming out of Paragon’s nose and mouth, and both girls were cold to his touch. He tried to wake one up but she was unresponsive, according to the police report.

Mourners placed a memorial outside the home where authorities say Paulesha Green-Pulliam killed her two young daughters.

Mourners placed a memorial outside the home where authorities say Paulesha Green-Pulliam killed her two young daughters.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

He left the house and told a neighbor what happened, police said. Around 7:30 a.m., a dispatcher sent police officers to the apartment, alerting them that the boyfriend “just got home and found his babies dead.”

Officer Chelsea Weidinger arrived first. The boyfriend was in the street crying, flailing his arms and pacing. The children were dead inside, he told officers.

Weidinger entered and found Green-Pulliam kneeling on a couch next to the front door. She stared straight ahead like a “deer in headlights,” Weidinger said in her report, blinking slowly and ignoring the officer’s questions. When Weidinger asked where the kids were located, Green-Pulliam “looked right past her.” Another officer said she appeared to be in an “altered state of mind.”

The apartment was disheveled. A bookshelf was toppled over in the living room, and someone had written on one of the walls, “I forgive you. Jesus save forgives,” according to the police report. On the television screen was the menu page for “The Book of Psalms. Audio Bible Reading.” A toilet was unflushed with bile inside the bowl, and next to Green-Pulliam on the couch was a bucket filled with vomit, the reports state.

Medics pronounced both girls dead around 7:50 a.m. Authorities found no obvious signs of trauma, according to county records. In addition to the box of keepsakes, an animal horn had been placed on top of the bodies, officers noted.

“What would you do if someone was trying to traffic your kids?” Green-Pulliam asked an officer in the apartment.

“In postpartum psychosis, there is a higher risk of suicide and infanticide,” said Angelotta, the Northwestern University forensic psychiatrist. While she said she could not comment specifically about the Green-Pulliam case, she said that mothers experiencing delusions may hear voices suggesting that they harm their baby, often involving religious themes. A 2017 study found that 8% of mothers with postpartum psychosis had thought of killing their baby and almost 1 in 5 had thought about killing themselves.

The boyfriend told police that Green-Pulliam told him she had tried to kill herself by ingesting an unknown amount of pills and by hanging herself. He said he noticed something around her neck when she first opened the door and saw an extension cord connected to the front gate. He also mentioned a shower curtain being involved, and police noticed the rod was bent. Medics and a consulting doctor found no sign that Green-Pulliam ingested pills.

As Green-Pulliam was being handcuffed in her apartment, she asked the officer if she could be “5150’d,” a term used to describe an involuntary psychiatric hold placed on an individual deemed to be suffering a mental health crisis and presenting a danger to themselves or others. She asked if the event would be reported on the news, an officer wrote in her report.

Upon arriving at the Bayview police station, Green-Pulliam — who is scheduled to return to court Feb. 16, and faces life in prison if convicted — asked an officer whether she would be executed.

Matthias Gafni is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: matthias.gafni@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @mgafni