Two children guided Boston police through a Dorchester apartment Sunday to a bed where the children’s mother lay dying, and to a second woman who had already succumbed to a stabbing attack, a prosecutor said Monday.
The gruesome scene and the role of the children — ages 7 and 8 — was described at the arraignment Monday of 34-year-old Marcus Chavis on two counts of murder and one count of animal cruelty.
The details emerged as the community continued to mourn the victims, identified Monday as 27-year-old Fatima Yasin, who was Chavis’s wife, and 42-year-old Jahaira DeAlto, a widely respected advocate for the transgender community and for domestic violence prevention.
Judge Thomas S. Kaplanes ordered Chavis held without bail during a short proceeding in the Dorchester division of Boston Municipal Court. A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf.
“Two people lost their lives and these two children are going to be impacted for the rest of their life,” said Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who attended Monday’s proceeding.
Authorities said Chavis called 911 on Sunday and told the operator he had killed his wife.
“The first officers to arrive met Mr. Chavis as he was coming out of the house,’' Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum said in court. “He had blood on him, he was agitated, and he was distraught.”
A police report said Chavis “was manic and crying, with blood on his shirt and hands.”
Polumbaum said the children approached police after the officers went into the first-floor apartment at 26 Taft St. in Savin Hill around 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
In a bedroom on the right-hand side of the hallway, he said, police found the body of DeAlto with “sharp force injuries” to her neck; she was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The children … pointed to another bedroom across the hall. In the second bedroom was their mother,” Polumbaum said. “She appeared to be trying to breathe at that point, but was unable to speak. She, too, had significant sharp force injuries to her neck, and she was pronounced dead when they got her to the hospital.”
The killings are the 11th and 12th homicides in Boston in 2021, compared to 13 at this time last year, police said.
Authorities also found a small dog with a stab wound to its side. The animal later underwent successful emergency surgery, Polumbaum said.
The children were removed by police and examined at Boston Medical Center, where their mother was pronounced dead just past 1 p.m. According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families, the child protection agency has emergency custody of them. The agency released no further information on their status.
Rollins expressed concern for the children’s long-term welfare.
“We have just really heart-wrenching facts. ... Two children were obviously present when this happened, and alerted police to where their mother lay dying,” Rollins told reporters after the arraignment. “There’s just a lot that these children have had to endure and we’re focused on making sure we get them as much treatment and help as possible.”
Chavis, Yasin, and the children had been living with DeAlto, who had agreed to let them stay with her, said Polumbaum. Rollins said her office is still working to determine DeAlto’s connection to the family. Friends and neighbors said DeAlto and Chavis had been close for a long time, and that she was like a mother to him.
According to Polumbaum, Chavis allegedly told police “he woke up, and his wife was bleeding. Asked how that happened, he said he didn’t know, but that he had the knife.”
A knife with a substance on the blade that appeared to be blood was found on a kitchen counter, according to the police report.
Chavis told the officers he had a mental health diagnosis for which he had been prescribed medication, Polumbaum said. Chavis told police he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.
On Taft Street Monday morning, officers remained outside DeAlto’s home, and yellow police tape remained strung across the stairs leading up to the porch of the three-decker. By late afternoon, the tape had been removed and a bouquet of flowers lay next to the steps, alongside a rainbow-colored stuffed bear and a flowerpot.
Jennifer Wahr of Jamaica Plain came to Taft Street on Monday, carrying flowers. She said she had worked with DeAlto to organize a vigil in the Berkshires for a transgender person who was murdered.
“She was a real activist for domestic violence and preventing intimate partner violence,” Wahr said. “It’s just so heartbreaking to think that someone who dedicated her life to preventing this sort of tragedy had to leave us in this way.”
Alan O’Donoghue, who lives next door, said Chavis and his family had been living with DeAlto for about two months as he attempted to address his mental illness. He recalled an evening sitting on the porch with Chavis, attempting to soothe him as Chavis became increasingly agitated.
“We sat on the steps for two, three hours,” he said. “I was just trying to calm him down and then he was fine.”
Through tears, O’Donoghue described DeAlto as a warm person with a “big laugh.”
DeAlto was “a sweetheart,” he said. “Just a really good friend. A really, really nice person. Big laugh, big cheer. We’d always laugh at the same stupid jokes.”
O’Donoghue said the dog who was injured in the stabbing was DeAlto’s and “never left her side.”
DeAlto’s mother, Doris Camer, said her daughter was born in Beirut and came to the United States when she was 3 months old. DeAlto spent most of her childhood in Chestnut Hill and obtained her GED before attending Berkshire Community College and Simmons University.
“She wanted nothing more than to advocate for people who were desperate,” Camer said in a telephone interview. “She had such a complicated life, and she did a lot of good. A lot of good. She suffered a lot because she was transgender.”
DeAlto spoke at the 2019 conference of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance about the need to give people tools to address their emotions in nonviolent ways.
“What liberation looks like to me is imbuing our children with the ability to inspect, and access, and interrogate their emotions to such an overarching degree that the idea of feeling the need to act upon violence won’t even occur to them,” she said, according to a video posted on her YouTube account.
“I want them to be so whole of being and have such tools at their disposal that something like that won’t even enter their minds,” DeAlto said, pledging that she would continue her work until all children have those tools.
DeAlto described herself in the speech as an immigrant, a person with a disability, a person of color, and “a woman who arrived at womanhood by way of a transgender journey.”
“My desire has been to be a voice for those who are voiceless and have been voiceless,” she said.
Correspondents Nick Stoico and Charlie McKenna, and Jessica Rinaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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