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Vigil held for 4 murdered children

Emotions flowed in southeast Shelby County as friends and even strangers gathered to remember the four young lives tragically taken last week.

People gathered in the field near the apartments whereShanynthia Gardner allegedly stabbed her children to death.

The event also served as a fundraiser to cover additional funeral expenses.

"This had a very big impact on the entire community and you know, just everywhere, their hearts just open up, they felt for us."

The group held up candles and released balloons.

The funerals for the children are set for Saturday at noon at the Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Grandmother of 7-year-old survivor said she forgives mother accused of killing her four children

The grandmother of the 7-year-old who survived a quadruple homicide said she forgives Shanynthia Gardner, charged with fatally stabbing four of her children Friday in southeast Shelby County.

Sonya Clayton, the grandmother of Dallen Clayton, said the news made her sick and she has not eaten or slept since she found out her grandson was chased by his mother with a butcher knife.

Clayton said she was shocked when she heard about the deaths and that Dallen still has not been released into the custody of his father. Gardner, 29, has known her son — Dallen's father — since they were in the eighth grade, she said.

"She is a beautiful, sweet young lady," Clayton said.

Clayton said she was still trying to make sense of why the murders happened.

"I forgive her," she said. "I know this was not her. I know this was the work of the devil. I love Shanynthia wholeheartedly still."

Clayton joined about 30 people, including neighbors, family members and law enforcement officials, at a vigil Saturday night at The Greens at Irene apartment complex where the four children were killed. Attendees held red and white candles and had moments of prayer for all five children. Clayton said her son was too upset to attend the vigil.

Rev. LaSimba Gray, pastor at New Sardis Baptist Church, said the vigil was the "beginning of healing for the community."

"There is absolutely nothing we can do for these four children. Nothing," Gray said.

What the community can do is reach out to the surviving child, the father and the community affected, he said.

New mother Shimeka Jones lives in The Greens at Irene and said the news deeply shook her.

"I was shaking," Jones said, while bouncing 2-month-old Carrina in her arms. "It was terrifying."

Tahlish Malone has three young children of her own and said the news kept her tossing and turning all night. She attended the vigil to support the family affected.

"When I got home yesterday I got my girls and I just held them," Malone said. "They slept with me last night and I just kissed them and let them know how much I loved them."

A charging document stated deputies were called to "a wounding call where four juveniles were found deceased upon Deputies' arrival" at 7449 Southern Hill Drive at 12:28 p.m. Friday.

According to Gardner's arrest affidavit, deputies found Gardner on the scene with "superficial cuts to her neck and wrists." The four children found with "severe throat lacerations" were 6-month old Yahzi; Sya, 3; Sahvi, 2; and 4-year-old Tallen. A witness told deputies he saw Dallen run from the home yelling that his mother stabbed his sister, the affidavit said.

The children's father, Martin Gardner, spoke to Shanynthia on the phone at 12:50 p.m. and she admitted to killing their four children, the affidavit said. Deputies recovered a bloody butcher knife from the home.

Gardner did briefly go missing in March 2015, according to a report from the Memphis Police Department. Her husband told police she was feeling stressed and having problems at work.

"She also has been feeling that someone is trying to harm her and her family," the report said.

The report stated Gardner left for work early on March 16, 2015, and "picked the kids up and left." That night, she called her husband around 11 p.m. from Corinth, Mississippi, where she had no family or friends, the report said.

Gardner's mother told police she was acting out of character but she was just stressed, and had not been diagnosed with a mental illness, the report said.

She was later found in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital, according to the report.

A spokesman confirmed Gardner worked as a part-time ALSAC employee at an off-site call center in Cordova. ALSAC is the fundraising and awareness arm of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of this terrible news, and our hearts are broken for everyone touched by this tragedy," Rick Shadyac, ALSAC president and CEO, said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the family."

Gardner faces four counts of first-degree murder associated with aggravated child abuse, four counts of first-degree murder in association with aggravated child neglect, plus four more counts each of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment.

Clayton told reporters that she had a message for her grandson.

"Dallen, wherever you are, your dad loves you, your brothers love you ... we love you and we are looking for you."

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