PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Even as her son’s image was plastered across TV and computer screens nationwide while authorities worked to identify the little boy found dead along a dirt road in Maine, his mother dutifully called his Texas school daily to report his absence.
Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving, Texas, was ordered held without bail Thursday on second-degree murder charges in New Hampshire, where she made her initial court appearance in the death of her son, 6-year-old Camden, after waiving extradition from Massachusetts.
She stared at the floor during her appearance in Portsmouth District Court, and she appeared to be crying when she was led from the courtroom.
Information offered by authorities and friends paint a portrait of a loving but troubled mother who suffered from mood swings that sometimes culminated in road trips — but she’d always come back.
This time, after one such trip to New England, she won’t be returning to Texas anytime soon.
A lawyer representing McCrery at a brief hearing in Massachusetts said that judging by conversations with his client, he thinks McCrery traveled hundreds of miles from home with the idea of taking her son’s life and committing suicide.
“I believe she was up here to bring both herself and her son to heaven,” George Murphy said in Concord, Mass. “She told me, ‘I love my son very much. I know where he is. He’s in heaven. I want to go there as soon as possible.’”
The 6-year-old’s body was found Saturday in an isolated area in South Berwick, Maine, and state police were at a loss to identify him because no one had reported him missing. Police believe he was killed in Hampton, N.H.
The last day the boy attended school in Texas was Friday, May 6. The next Monday, his mother called to report that he was absent because he was ill, and she continued to call this week, saying he was still sick, said Pat Lamb, director of security for the Irving Independent School District.
The last call to the school was Wednesday morning, hours before McCrery was questioned by state police in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, the case was drawing national attention as the boy went unidentified for days. State police in Maine distributed a picture of a boy with blond hair and blue eyes — an image taken of his corpse, but altered to show how he would have looked alive.
It’s extremely unusual for a missing child to go unreported. Similar cases happened only twice over the past two years, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Preliminary autopsy findings showed that Camden died of asphyxiation and was killed, according to Maine’s chief medical examiner. The homicide remains under investigation.
McCrery was detained Wednesday at a highway rest stop in Chelmsford, Mass., after police got a tip about her pickup truck, which matched a vehicle seen near the spot where the boy’s body was found covered with a blanket.
Her detention Wednesday set off a rapid-fire chain of events in which the investigation shifted from Maine, where the boy’s body was discovered, to Massachusetts, where McCrery was questioned, and finally to New Hampshire, where authorities believe the boy died and the formal charges were ultimately filed.
Her son died Saturday, the same day his body was discovered by a resident in Maine. Investigators believe Camden was killed that same day in Hampton, N.H., where he and his mother had stayed a night in a motel and checked out Saturday morning.
All the developments in New England occurred within 65 miles of one another.
After the New Hampshire court hearing, Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell said McCrery’s family was traveling to New England and will claim the boy’s body, which is in Augusta, Maine. She did not say which family members or when they would arrive.
“I think it’s just a tragic case. There’s not much more I can say right now,” said Monica Kaeser, McCrery’s public defender in New Hampshire.
Back in Texas, some of McCrery’s friends didn’t even know she and her son had left the modest mobile home she had bought for $5,000. But some of them say they wouldn’t have been overly alarmed because she sometimes disappeared.
She had done it before but always returned eventually. Just last fall, McCrery took her son out of kindergarten to travel to Seattle, said Shirley Miller, a longtime friend from Irving, Texas.
McCrery, known to friends as Julie, suffered from mood swings and sometimes would just “up and go” without telling anyone, Miller said.
“I would say she was a caring mother,” Miller said. “I don’t know why she did this unless she just flipped out.”
Like most people, the woman appears to have harbored both demons and accomplishments.
Texas public records show that she was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs.
Murphy, who met with a tearful McCrery in Massachusetts, said she told him that she’d attempted suicide within the past few days and had tried to kill herself several times in 2004.
And Amazon.com features a book for sale by a woman named Julie McCrery about how to get a good night’s sleep, titled “Good Night, Sleep Tight!” The biography says the author drove a school bus and operated a cement mixer. Her latest job, according to court records in Massachusetts, was as an “auto parts delivery contractor” in Texas.
Miller said that she baby-sat for Camden about two weeks ago and that he was wearing the same clothes he had on when his body was found in Maine. She said the clothes were brand new.
“Why did she leave him beside the road? I cannot get past that. That does not seem like her,” she said. “I know she probably did it, but I can’t get past why.”
Lamb described McCrery’s son as “a gifted and talented” kindergartner at W.T. Hanes Elementary School in Irving. Grief counselors were on hand to assist children and staff as news of his death spread on the 600-student campus, Lamb said.
“He was a really bright student,” Lamb said. “His teachers described him as a sponge who loved to learn.”
Lavoie reported from Concord, Mass. Associated Press writers Russell Contreras in Boston and Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas contributed to this report.