ASTORIA, Ore. — A woman going through a divorce and custody battle is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter and severely cutting her teenage daughter at a popular inn on the northern Oregon coast, a crime that shocked tourists and residents.
Jessica Smith, 40, of Goldendale, Washington, was ordered held without bail Monday during her first court hearing, in which she appeared via a video feed from jail.
Her lawyer, William Falls, declined to comment, except to say the case would be tried in the courtroom, not the media.
Authorities began looking for Smith on Friday after a housekeeper at the Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach found the body of Smith’s 2-year-old daughter in a room. The other daughter, age 13, was badly cut and taken to a Portland hospital for surgery, police said. She’s expected to recover.
On Sunday, a Coast Guard helicopter spotted an SUV driven by Smith in the woods east of Cannon Beach, and authorities soon took her into custody.
The mother had been under a court order to turn over the children to their father, Greg Smith, at 5 p.m. Friday, the day the girls were found in the hotel room, The Oregonian reported.
An autopsy concluded the toddler’s death was a homicide, although it didn’t determine the precise cause. Investigators were awaiting toxicology reports.
Smith faces charges of aggravated murder, which could lead to the death penalty, and attempted aggravated murder.
At the hearing Monday, she sat at a table, said nothing and frequently looked down. She did not enter a plea, and her next court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 12.
Smith checked into the Cannon Beach lodging Wednesday.
She and Greg Smith separated in April after 17 years of marriage, according to news reports. Greg Smith filed for divorce in June and sought shared custody of the children.
Court records show Greg Smith obtained a temporary court order that prevented Jessica Smith from taking their children from the Washington area, or the Portland-Vancouver area, The Oregonian reported.
Greg Smith’s attorney, Nathan Petersen, told the newspaper a judge had ordered that Greg Smith be granted limited parenting rights starting Aug. 1. A parenting plan set out in court records shows he was to have the children from Friday evening through Sunday night every other weekend.
According to The Oregonian, Greg Smith in July received worrisome text and voice messages from Jessica Smith and the teenage daughter. He requested that a psychologist conduct an evaluation of where the children should be placed.
Greg Smith wrote in court papers that the teen sounded in a voice message she left for him as though she was “reading from something that Jessica scripted,” making statements like “I’m so sick I can hardly talk,” and “It’s terrifying and cruel of you not to respect us.”
According to The Oregonian, the father wrote in the court records that he had a positive relationship with his daughters and did not understand “why Jessica is manipulating our children into believing otherwise.”
On Sunday, Greg Smith’s family released a statement through the FBI thanking law enforcement and others for their help.
“We are extremely grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and support from Cannon Beach and the surrounding communities,” the statement said.
Cannon Beach is a popular weekend getaway for people from the Portland region, about 80 miles away. It features galleries, shopping and scenic seascapes.