(MCT) — CHICAGO — Justin Plackowski was a well-liked third-grader who loved reading books about superheroes and making his classmates laugh.
Olivia Dworakowski, a kindergartner, got lost on her first day at school this fall, but then had a friendly lunch with the police officers who found her.
Many in Naperville, Ill., struggled to focus on those charming details and not the scene of “unimaginable horror” that prosecutors laid out Thursday in describing how Justin’s mother, Elzbieta M. Plackowska, allegedly murdered the two children.
“The school staff will help the students celebrate Justin in a way that is appropriate for their age,” said Susan E. Rice, director of communications of Naperville Community Unit School District 203.
Wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit and showing no emotion, Plackowska spoke up only twice, to confirm her identity and to say that she couldn’t afford an attorney, during an appearance in DuPage County Circuit Court where she was denied bail. Plackowska, 40, of Naperville, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and faces mandatory natural life in prison if convicted.
Questions about the gruesome crime, discovered Tuesday night by police, plagued neighbors, relatives and other residents of the usually quiet and family-oriented suburb.
In bond court Thursday, prosecutors offered a chilling account of how Plackowska allegedly stabbed Justin 100 times as he pleaded for his life and told his mother he loved her.
The suspect then allegedly stabbed 5-year-old Olivia, whom she was babysitting, about 50 times because she was a witness. The girl also begged for her life, prosecutors said.
The slain girl’s mother, Marta Dworakowski, declined to comment Thursday when reached on the phone. “I’m not ready to talk to anyone yet,” she said.
According to prosecutors, Justin and Olivia were told to get ready for bed Tuesday, but instead began jumping on the bed in the master bedroom of Olivia’s town home.
Plackowska went to the kitchen to get a knife, then entered the bedroom and ordered the children to kneel and pray, prosecutors said.
“She told Justin he was going to heaven tonight,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said.
Two family dogs were also stabbed to death in the rampage, officials said. Police said they recovered two knives, one in the kitchen sink, the blade bent backward, and the other in the defendant’s car.
After the slayings, Plackowska drove to a nearby church but couldn’t reach anyone. She left a voice message at the church saying “she had done something bad and needed assistance,” Berlin said.
Authorities identified the church as St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naperville. Church leaders did not return calls and emails from Chicago Tribune reporters Thursday.
Plackowska, covered in blood, then drove to a home in Naperville where her adult son was staying. The son called 911, sources said.
Meanwhile, Marta Dworakowski, a nurse who worked an evening shift at a dialysis lab, returned to her home to find the door locked and Plackowska’s car missing. Panicked, Dworakowski drove across town to the defendant’s home and also dialed 911, officials said.
Plackowska was taken into custody at 11:15 p.m. CDT Tuesday, officials said.
Under questioning, Plackowska first told police a stalker had broken into the town house and killed the children. But then she said she had heard voices from the devil and killed the children to save their souls, prosecutors said.
“She stated the children had evil inside of them and she was trying to drive the devil out of them,” Berlin said.
Later, Plackowska told police the children didn’t mind her like they should and were “poisoned by society.”
Finally, she told police she was angry with her husband and that she would kill Justin because “she would make him hurt the way she hurt in the relationship,” Berlin said.
Plackowska — also identified in public records as Plackowski — told police she had argued on the phone with her husband earlier that day because she wanted to return to her native Poland while he wanted to remain here, the source said.
Plackowska came to the United States 12 years ago on a vacation visa, officials said. Authorities said they still are investigating the defendant’s immigration status, but jail officials confirmed that federal customs officials placed a hold on her release had she been granted bail.
Prosecutors say her husband is a trucker who was gone from home much of the week. Plackowska told police she did not feel appreciated, and that she resented having to clean houses to pay the bills.
“She stated she was angry with her husband because he was gone most days as an over-the-road trucker,” Berlin said.
But in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press, Artur Plackowski said his wife had told him the day before the slayings that she loved him.
And Kamil Wieczorek, who told the Tribune he was Artur Plackowski’s cousin, said Thursday that the defendant’s family, who called her “Magda,” was “destroyed” by the killings.
“He did everything he could for his family. He put thousands of miles on his truck every month, slept in his truck. He sacrificed everything for his family,” Wieczorek said.
Wieczorek said family members noticed a change in Elzbieta Plackowska’s behavior since her father’s recent death in Poland. He said she had grown quick tempered, was picking fights and arguments and was depressed. She didn’t have a history of mental illness and wasn’t taking any medication, he said.
“There was no sign of aggression or violence or anything like that,” said Wieczorek. “She was a normal, good mom, in love with her kids.”
After the hearing, Michael Mara, a senior assistant public defender for DuPage County, spoke briefly to Plackowska.
“She seemed upset but I don’t know beyond that. She is on suicide watch at the jail,” Mara said.
Plackowska, who previously lived in Des Plaines, Ill., has a minor criminal history. She pleaded guilty to shoplifting in 2004 and was sentenced to one year in court supervision, records show. Three years earlier, she was issued a traffic ticket for driving under the influence. She apparently paid a fine and received court supervision, according to court records.
Both children’s autopsies were expected to be concluded late Thursday, according to DuPage Coroner Pete Siekmann.
Siekmann said the families had not finalized funeral services yet.
“In all my years in law enforcement, this was the most horrific and gruesome crime scene I have seen,” Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall said after the hearing Thursday.
Some of the officers investigating the slayings had helped Olivia on her first day at school, Marshall said.
“Our officers told us she was such a sweet and loving little girl,” Marshall said.
(Gutowski and Ortiz Healy are Tribune reporters. Ward is a freelance writer. Tribune reporters Matthew Walberg, Erin Meyer and Dawn Rhodes also contributed to this report.)