South Carolina father held in deaths of 5 children

MS Dept. of Public Safety

(CNN) -- Timothy Jones Jr. allegedly went on a three-state, 700-mile journey that began in South Carolina with the bodies of his five young children wrapped in a garbage bags in the back of his SUV, authorities said Wednesday.

Jones, a 32-year-old computer tech and University of Mississippi graduate, told neighbors last week that he was moving his children from their home near Lexington to another state.

The father of five was being held Wednesday in a Mississippi jail in connection with the deaths of his children, ages 1 to 8, whose bodies were dumped in Alabama.

It's still unclear how or why Jones allegedly killed his children, but acting Sheriff Lewis McCarty of Lexington County told reporters that Jones drove for several days with their decomposing bodies in the back of his SUV.

It is believed he killed the children at the same time, and that the crime happened in Lexington County, McCarty said.

"I don't understand why he did it but, yes, these children were in the car, deceased, in garbage bags for some period of time," McCarty said.

When Jones was picked up Saturday at a police checkpoint in Mississippi, he seemed "very strange, maybe somewhat disoriented, a little bit on the violent side," McCarty said. In the car, police later found "cleaning material, they saw blood, they saw children's clothing but no children."

McCarty said Jones, who allegedly was in possession of synthetic marijuana and a drug called "bath salts," faces five counts of murder when he's returned to South Carolina.

The sheriff said Jones led investigators in Alabama to the trash-bag-wrapped remains believed to be those of his children.

The remains have been returned to South Carolina, where autopsies will be performed.

"I'm a father and I'm a grandfather and in all of my years of law enforcement I have never seen a case like this," McCarty said. "We all see things in our careers that have an impact. This case has impacted every person ... who had anything at all to do with it."

Late Tuesday, Albert Santa Cruz, Mississippi's public safety commissioner, called the crime "unconscionable."

In a statement, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called the deaths of the five children and Monday's shooting of two Charleston County deputies, one fatally, in an unrelated incident "moments that truly shock our conscience."

"These events bring a sadness like no other," he said. "We grieve together for our lost ones, and we pray together for those touched by these horrific tragedies."

Parents speak out

Standing before television cameras with his wife sobbing by his side, Jones' father spoke to reporters Wednesday.

"We know that the angels are with us, but your prayers are helping us cope," Tim Jones said. "We do not have all the answers and we may never have all of them, but anyone who knows little Tim will agree that he is not the animal that he will be portrayed through the media."

He described his son as "a very loving father, brother and son" and said the family was heartbroken.

"At this time, we need to use all our strength to say goodbye to our grandchildren and be allowed privacy to grieve," he said.

Child welfare investigation

Child welfare authorities said they had received an abuse complaint involving at least one of the children on August 7 but interviews with Jones, the children and neighbors determined there was no imminent danger, said Jackie Swindler, a representative of the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

"DSS did not see any visible signs of abuse," he said, adding that the agency planned to follow up within 45 days. "At the time, there was nothing to alarm them."

Authorities said Jones picked up the children at school and day care on August 28.

According to an affidavit for the child endangerment charges against him, he admitted that he forced the five children out of his car that day near a Wal-Mart store in Lexington County. Parts of the affidavit are blacked out.

The children's mother, who shared custody of the children with her ex-husband, reported them missing on September 3 after not being able to contact Jones. He was supposed to bring the children to stay with her the day before.

"We feel that the deaths took place early on," McCarty said.

He was being held in Smith County, Mississippi, on drug and child endangerment charges and is awaiting extradition to South Carolina for prosecution.

A grisly discovery

The children's remains were discovered off a dirt road in Wilcox County, not far from Camden, said Sgt. Steve Jarrett of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

A multistate search for the children and their father involved the FBI and state law enforcement agencies. When Jones was arrested Saturday in Mississippi, a check of the National Criminal Information Center found he was wanted in South Carolina.

CNN's Suzanne Presto contributed to this report.