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Mother Charged

Neighbors first thought emergency vehicles on Red House Drive signaled a gas leak.

On April 26, authorities charged Isabel Sherr, 30, of Lansdowne, with two counts of attempted capital murder after allegedly trying to drown her two young children.

Neighbors found Sherr in her Lansdowne backyard on April 21, bloody and upset after falling two floors from an upstairs window into a basement stairwell. She reportedly told neighbors that she had drowned her children, said Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell.

At the same time a neighbor broke a window pane to get access to the front door, deputies arrived on the scene in the 43700 block of Red House Drive. A deputy broke into the master bedroom upstairs and found the two children, a 19-month-old girl and a 4-year-old boy, alone in the bathtub. While the tub was empty, Troxell said, water soaked the floor.

A live-in nanny was in her basement apartment and unaware of what was happening upstairs. According to the Sheriff’s Office, a note was found at the scene but its content has not been released.

Both children were taken to Inova Loudoun Hospital and released the next day to their father's care. Daniel Sherr, a patent attorney, was out of the country on business the day of the incident.

Isabel Sherr was charged while still at Inova Fairfax Hospital by Fairfax law enforcement. As of press time, she was still at the hospital and under Fairfax County custody, but Troxell said he expected her to be transferred to Loudoun County custody shortly.

RED HOUSE DRIVE is a short stretch of road lined with lovely, distinct homes on moderately-sized plots.

More than a week after the incident, the Sherr home was quiet and undisturbed. The only hint that anything was amiss was the slightly overgrown grass and pebbles of shattered glass still on the front step where a neighbor smashed the window pane. The broken window is sealed with cardboard.

Inside the front hall, pictures of two young children greet visitors. In one picture, the boy is kissing his baby sister’s head.

While Red House Drive has many young families, Jeanette Martini’s children have all grown. Martini was home the day Isabel Sherr jumped out of the second-story window. She was outside working in her yard the morning of April 21.

"I looked up the street and there were emergency vehicles everywhere," she said. "There was yellow tape all around the house and I knew something terrible had happened."

The first reaction among neighbors was that there was a gas leak — not an uncommon occurrence among new subdivisions.

"I don’t think any of us thought about a mother trying to harm her children," Martini said.

Word got out that emergency workers had carried the children out alive, and as neighbors talked, the story of what had happened got around.

"It was a very unsettling experience for all of us," Martini said. "You had to know that woman was very ill."

IN 2001, Andrea Yates made national headlines by drowning her five children in a bathtub in her Texas home. A jury spared her the death penalty, and her life sentence was overturned earlier this year when it was found that a psychiatrist gave faulty testimony.

It’s likely that like Andrea Yates, Isabel Sherr has a history of depression, said Jim Maddux, director of the clinical psychology doctoral program at George Mason University.

"I think we’re probably looking at someone who has been psychologically fragile for a long time," Maddux said. "The majority of people would not react this way" to stress.

How the children will respond depends on several things, Maddux added. The younger girl probably won’t have much memory of the event, but the 4-year-old boy will be more aware of what happened.

Troxell said the boy was "visibly upset" when found by a deputy.

Whether Sherr physically tried to drown her children, or simply left them alone in a tub, could come out in a future trial if Sherr is found fit to stand trial.

"How this plays out depends on what exactly happened in that bathroom," Maddux said.