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Salem mother said she sought to ‘protect’ children

SALEM — The mother accused of slashing the throats of her two children and setting fire to her apartment told police she was trying to protect them and that she had planned to commit suicide after she killed her son and daughter, a prosecutor said in court today.

Tanicia Goodwin appeared in Salem District Court today where she was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing March 26. Goodwin, 25, wore a light-blue hospital smock and appeared disoriented but also asked the judge to assign her a court-appointed attorney.

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The cruel violence stunned a neighbor and Goodwin’s landlord, who said she appeared to be a good mother, and had never caused any problems during the four years she has lived at the Salem Heights Apartments.

A Salem police spokesman said the department had no contact with Goodwin until Sunday night.

Goodwin was arrested at the Salem police headquarters around 9:30 p.m. Sunday after she walked into the station, smashed a glass case displaying police patches, and then collapsed in the station lobby.

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“ ‘I did what I had to do to protect my children,’ ’’ she said to police, according to Essex Assistant District Attorney Melissa A. Woodard. “ ‘I am so sorry, Erica and Jamal.’ ”

In a report filed in court, Salem police said that Goodwin’s shirt and pants were stained with blood. Her pants smelled of lighter fluid and she appeared to have soot on her hands.

Goodwin allegedly asked for a cigarette, but was denied one because her clothing, especially her pants legs, appeared wet with lighter fluid.

Goodwin allegedly said during a police interview, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to protect my babies, momma loves you. You know I love you guys so much, momma loves you. I wish you were here right now. I just wanted to protect them, I’m so sorry Erica, Jamal.”

According to a police report, Goodwin asked if her children were okay, and an officer told her the children were being medically stabilized in order to be transported to Children’s Hospital.

Goodwin allegedly responded, “ ‘Thank you God, please keep them alive...’ ”

As investigators continued questioning Goodwin, they were informed by other investigators that both children had indicated to paramedics and police with nods of their heads that Goodwin had wounded them.

As Goodwin was arrested, she alleged said: “I’m not supposed to be here, I’m not supposed to be alive.”

Authorities said Goodwin not only set their apartment on fire, but also disarmed smoke detectors and sealed off fire sprinklers in her seventh floor unit at the Salem Heights Apartments building. The apartment’s door closed behind a firefighter who had difficulty reopening it because the inside door knob had been removed.

The children were also doused with lighter fluid and had to be washed by medical personnel before they could start being treated for the slashing wounds to their necks. The 8-year-old was found by a Salem firefighter on a couch in the apartment with a cutting wound so deep it exposed his trachea, Woodard said in court. The boy was Medflighted to Children’s Hospital Boston where he is listed in critical condition.

The girl, who is 3-years-old, is also in critical condition and is undergoing surgery today, officials said.

Authorities said Goodwin fled from the apartment to a neighbor’s home carrying her daughter. The daughter was later found in the apartment building and hospitalized.

Eleanor Norris, who said she has lived next door to the Goodwins for the past 18 months, said she would have never imagined that Goodwin would want to hurt her children. She said she never heard any yelling or fighting.

“She was very nice, very kind, patient, and friendly,” Norris said in a telephone interview. “She was a nice person. She was outside with her kids all the time.”

She said she saw Goodwin offering a neighbor something on Sunday, and that she seemed to be fine. “I never saw anything out of the ordinary,” Norris said. “I’m in total shock – total. At first I was in disbelief, and now I’m angry.”

Maria Plati, communications director for Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc. in Boston, said Goodwin lived for four years at Salem Heights Apartments, which is owned by the non-profit group.

She said there were never any issues with Goodwin. “No problems at all,” Plati said.

Goodwin’s unit is a total loss.

Other units had water damage, but a few dozen tenants displaced during the evacuation have returned, she said. “It’s basically just clean-up now,” she said. “Everyone is able to go back to their apartments.”

The company will send a letter to residents, explaining what happened, and will make a social worker available to speak with any residents who may need counseling, Plati said. “It’s really tough for the residents,” she said.” We’ve asked people to pray.”

A mix of residents, from the elderly to families, live in the complex.

In 2003, former Gov. Mitt Romney visited to present a check for $1.7 million to keep the units affordable.

For Earth Day last year, the state energy secretary visited to celebrate the installation of solar panels at Salem Heights and the adjacent Fayerweather Apartments, an elderly housing complex also owned by the nonprofit.

“There’s been a lot of special moments there,” Plati said. “This is just all so very sad.”

Salem Police Lieutenant Conrad Prosniewski said Goodwin was not known to police. Police frequently respond to calls at Salem Heights Apartments, but never had been to Goodwin’s unit.

“She was not on our radar at all,” he said. “We never had any dealings with her at all.”

When she appeared at the station, Goodwin had wounds to her neck, which were not bleeding, Prosniewski said. Her pants had blood stains on them and appeared wet from accelerant. She smelled of lighter fluid and had soot on her hands, Prosniewski said.

According to the prosecutor and Salem Fire Chief David W. Cody, firefighters responded to Goodwin’s seventh floor apartment on Pope Street Sunday night around 9:15 p.m. Cody said a central alarm in the building alerted firefighters to smoke conditions in the building.

Cody said firefighters from Ladder 1 and Engine 4 entered Apartment 714B and noticed heavy smoke conditions and signs of a fire inside.

“They could see a small glow in the back of the apartment,’’ the chief said.

He said some firefighters stayed on the seventh floor and began battling the fire with extinguishers while others went downstairs to get equipment from their trucks; they hauled hoses and nozzles up seven flights of stairs which they then connected to a standpipe.

“The fire was taken care of in 15 minutes,’’ Cody said. “It was not a substantial fire.’’

Police later found three large charcoal lighter fluid containers in the apartment -- one in Goodwin’s bedroom and two in her children’s bedroom. A large kitchen knife was found in the living room. Matches were found in the bathroom sink and a lighter was found on the kitchen counter, Woodard said.

Fire investigators found accelerants at three locations in the unit: A towel found in the kitchen, on the carpet in the children’s bedroom, and on a shade in the children’s bedroom.

Colleen Connolly, a spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital Boston, said the hospital would not be commenting on the condition of the two children.

Goodwin was assigned Steven Van Dyke, an attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, to represent her.

She is charged with two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and arson. She pleaded not guilty.

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