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Pennsylvania mom charged with murder in deaths of children found hanged

As she was arrested, Lisa Snyder insisted that her son, Conner, was bullied at school and took his own life and that of his sister, Brinley.
Lisa R. Snyder is led from the Berks County, Pa. State Police Barracks in Hamburg, Pa., Monday, following her arraignment for murder charges in the September hanging deaths of two of her children in their Albany Township, Berks County, home. (Bill Uhrich/Reading Eagle via AP)
Lisa R. Snyder is led from the Berks County, Pa. State Police Barracks in Hamburg, Pa., Monday, following her arraignment for murder charges in the September hanging deaths of two of her children in their Albany Township, Berks County, home. (Bill Uhrich/Reading Eagle via AP) [ BILL UHRICH | AP ]
Published Dec. 3, 2019

By Pamela Lehman, Laurie Mason Schroeder and Manuel Gamiz Jr., The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (TNS)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In the weeks before her two children were found hanging in the basement of her Berks County home, Lisa Snyder told a friend that she was depressed and “didn’t care about her kids,” an investigation showed.

Snyder, 36, searched the internet for information about death by hanging and carbon monoxide poisoning, and perused true-crime television shows about getting away with murder. One day before the hanging, Snyder ordered the dog lead, a type of dog leash, that was found wrapped around their necks.

She picked it up the next morning from the Hamburg Walmart, police said, hours before the children were found.

After more than two months of investigation, authorities Monday charged Snyder with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, tampering with evidence, endangering the welfare of children, animal cruelty and sexual intercourse with a dog.

As Snyder, of Albany Township, was arrested Monday, she showed “little to no emotion,” said Berks County District Attorney John Adams, and continued to insist that her son, Conner, was bullied at school and took his own life and that of his sister, Brinley.

Adams said interviews with Conner’s classmates and teachers, as well as a video of him getting off the bus shortly before Snyder called 911 to report finding the children hanging, showed that wasn’t true.

“The video shows no sign that Conner was in distress whatsoever,” Adams said. “In fact, from the video he appeared to be a happy child.”

Adams confirmed that Berks County Children and Youth had previously removed Conner and Brinley from Snyder’s care, later returning the children to their mother.

The dog-related charges stem from sexually explicit photos of Snyder with the family dog that were uncovered during the investigation and are not related to the homicide charges, Adams said.

Snyder is being held in Berks County Jail without bail.

The district attorney said the investigation, which drew international attention, was difficult for both police and the community.

“It is very emotional for all of us,” Adams said at a news conference at the Berks County Courthouse in Reading to announce the charges. “To have two children taken at such a young age, what appears to be two very innocent people. It’s not right. It hits us in the heart.”

Police were called to Snyder’s home on Route 143, near Kempton, around 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 23 and found Conner and Brinley hanging about 3 feet apart from opposite ends of a plastic-coated wire dog lead. The children were unresponsive and in cardiac arrest.

They were airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest, where they were taken off life support three days later, Adams said.

Adams said Snyder told first responders that she attempted to get Brinley, who weighed about 40 pounds, down from the lead, but became overwhelmed by anxiety and left the basement to call 911. Rescue workers cut the children down.

Snyder never returned to the basement while paramedics worked to save the children, Adams said, which police found suspicious.

“I would agree that we all may think that a mother of children who are found hanging would make every effort possible to save them,” Adams said. “That was not done in this situation.”

Recordings of 911 calls revealed that Snyder told rescue workers that Conner was bullied and had been threatening suicide. She claimed he killed his sister because he “didn’t want to go alone.” Adams said police had doubts about that part of the story from the start.

“Eight-year-olds, generally, that I am aware of, do not commit suicide, so of course we had questions almost immediately,” Adams said.

Snyder was arrested at her home Monday morning. Adams said investigators interviewed her twice and have as yet been unable to determine how she carried out the hangings. Toxicology reports show the children had no drugs in their system.

Adams said he couldn’t comment on whether the children were injured prior to being hanged or if they put up a struggle.

Adams on Monday confirmed reports that Berks County Children and Youth was involved with the family and the children had been removed from Snyder’s custody in the past, though he would not discuss the circumstances of their removal.

According to Berks County Assistant District Attorney Meg McCallum, Children and Youth filed an emergency custody petition in July 2014 which was granted by a judge, but she would not disclose the circumstances that prompted the petition. McCallum said the children were returned to Snyder in February 2015 and the case was closed in November of that year.

Adams said the investigation didn’t reveal any mistakes on Children and Youth’s part in returning the children to Snyder.

According to court records detailing Snyder’s arrest, Snyder Googled “hanging yourself” and visited a website detailing an effective way of hanging a person. Snyder also searched for “how long to die” from carbon monoxide and several searches for “almost got away with it,” a reference to a true crime television series on Investigation Discovery.

The dog lead was ordered on a cellphone that was not found even after police served five search warrants on Snyder’s home. Adams said police are searching for the phone, a Galaxy Note 9.

During interviews, Snyder told police that Conner had been bullied because of his weight and had “lost 25 pounds since school started because he was starving himself,” court records say.

Snyder also told investigators that her son suffered from a speech delay is “a little slower to grasp things and kids make fun of him because he was fat.” She said when she talked to Conner about his problems, he allegedly told her that “I woulda killed myself already, but I am scared to go myself.”

Snyder said the day her children died, Conner came home from school and asked her if he could go “downstairs to build a fort.” She said Conner asked if he could use a dog lead on the table that she had just bought that day and she said yes.

Snyder described in great detail Conner lugging the chairs into the basement, saying he was tired and stopped for a drink before taking down the second chair. While this was happening, Snyder told police, she was putting laundry away and went outside for a cigarette.

Snyder told police after about 10 minutes outside, she went back to ask the children what they wanted for dinner and that’s when she found them hanging. Snyder said she tried to lift her daughter but could not because when her “anxiety spikes,” she starts to sweat profusely. Snyder also told police she tried to lift her son, who weighs about 150 pounds, but was unable to, court records say.

A person only referred to as “Witness 3” who lived at the Snyder home told police that it was not normal for Conner and Brinley to play in the basement and they would often play in the living room. That witness also told police that Conner never mentioned being bullied. Several other unnamed family members also told police that Conner “never expressed he was bullied or suicidal.”

Police also interviewed an occupational therapist at Conner’s school who said the boy had “difficulty with dexterity, using his index finger and thumb pinched together.”

Shown a replica of the dog lead, the therapist said Conner would have had “difficulty operating the clasp due his poor dexterity,” court records show.

The therapist also told police that the way the lead was wrapped around the basement beam was “too equal in length” and Conner would have had difficulty doing that. “Conner would have had a difficult time finding the middle,” and that he often was “clumsy and would bump into things.”

According to the affidavit, in the weeks leading up to the killings, Snyder sent at least three sexually explicit photos of herself engaged in sexual acts with a black and white dog to an unnamed person. Adams said that the discovery of the dog abuse was something investigators uncovered during the homicide investigation.

An Oct, 2 search warrant specifically mentioned a black husky-pit bull mix weighing 50 pounds. Adams said Snyder “sent the dog away” but it has since been located.

Snyder’s family members could not be reached for comment Monday. Her attorney, Dennis Charles, did not return messages seeking comment Monday.