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Mother in Drowning Case 'Snapped,' Family Says

July 20, 1987|IMBERT MATTHEE | Times Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD — Susan Riley, a local woman who allegedly fought off rescuers' attempts to stop her from drowning her 6-year-old daughter in a remote ranch pond here, may have suffered a mental breakdown at the time, members of her family said Sunday.

"Obviously, she was psychologically not well," said her husband, David Riley, who works as a mechanic at the nearby Concord Naval Weapons Station. "She was not herself. She did not have control over her actions. She just snapped. If anything, it was done from love."

Red Womack, 75, the ranch foreman, a woman and two teen-agers saw Riley and her daughter Melinda splashing about in 6 to 10 feet of murky water on Friday.

But when they tried to help in what they thought was a rescue attempt, Riley kept them from intervening to save her daughter, Sheriff's Deputy Robert Stedman said. Womack left to notify authorities.

Tried to Revive Child

Deputies tried unsuccessfully to revive the child when they arrived and Melinda Riley was pronounced dead on arrival at North Bay Medical Center here.

The 32-year-old Riley was arrested by sheriff's deputies on Saturday morning, after a 22-hour air and land search. She remained in Solano County Jail, booked for investigation of murder, pending arraignment this week, Stedman said.

Susan Riley was employed as a retail clerk at Lucky Stores Inc. in Vallejo. The family, which also includes a 3-year-old boy, lives in a middle-class, suburban Fairfield home.

Family members Sunday described her as a loving, but heavily burdened mother. The alleged murder of her daughter, whom she cared for exceptionally, came as a shock, they said.

Stressful Position

David Riley, who told authorities that he last saw his wife at 3 a.m. Friday, when he returned home from work, said that despite her stressful position as a working mother, her disappearance and the alleged killing of their daughter came as a complete surprise.

He said she did not have a history of mental illness, but did have a guilt-ridden personality.

"She was really a giving person and accepted everyone else's problems as well as her own," Riley said. "She couldn't forgive herself for anything in life and just didn't know how to release herself. It must just have been the culmination of that and of having an (odd-hour) job and having to raise children."

Police Sunday would not say whether Riley was under examination by a psychiatrist while awaiting her court appearance. Nor would officers release information about her present mental state or history. She did not have a known criminal record, Stedman said.

'Really Into Religion'

Riley said his wife had more frequently sought support from reading the Bible during the months leading up to Friday's incident. She also had started joining her husband, who is Catholic, in attending church services.

"She was really into religion," he said.

Ann Graves, Susan Riley's sister-in-law, who took care of the Riley children frequently, said the suspect thought the world of Melinda, and was a more-than-adequate mother to her.

To neighbors, the Rileys seemed like a normal family.

"They (Susan Riley and her daughter) always seemed very happy," said Monique Fleming, who lives across the street. "Melinda used to play here with my son."

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