The Point Breeze mother who allegedly fatally stabbed her two young children Wednesday night had a long history of mental illness, family members and friends said.
“She’s bipolar. It’s a disease you have all your life,” said husband Cesar Rosado, who added that she was taking medication.
Chanthy Mao, 27, immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia about five years ago and worked on and off as a nail technician. She is charged with two counts of murder for killing her 8-year-old son, Savann, and 12-year-old daughter, Savannah, before turning the knife on herself.
Mao was treated for self-inflicted wounds and then released from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania into police custody.
“She tried to kill herself two times already,” said sister Sotheary Mao. “The first two times, it was only her. I don’t know why this time she took the kids first.”
Relatives gathered at Mao’s first-floor apartment Thursday to burn incense and light candles at a makeshift shrine in the tiny room where the children were killed.
Mao’s sister said her illness intensified in Cambodia during her first marriage to the father of her children. “I don’t think she had a happy life with him,” she said. She added that the family wasn’t sure if the man is in the country, but heard that he may attend the kids’ funerals.
But none of the mourners could make sense of what happened Wednesday night.
“It wasn’t something the father or the children did. It was a button that snapped,” Rosado said. “She wouldn’t kill a bug, but something kicked in and everything started. It doesn’t have an answer.”
Suffered in silence
“The problem with the Cambodian community is that they don’t recognize that mental health problems exist,” said Somrith Som, family friend and president of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, who added that many mentally ill Cambodians suffer in silence and isolation.
“They think that it can’t be treated and that it’s their fate or destiny to die.”
Mao’s husband added that the medication doctors prescribed made her angrier.
“She doesn’t fit in, so everybody wants to give her medicine to calm her down,” Rosado said. “When she doesn’t take it, it’s unacceptable to people because she acts funny and weird all the time — but never mad or violent. She didn’t do this.”