‘The kids are my life,’ a dad said of his missing family. Then he was charged with killing them

A tribute outside the home where Shanann Watts and her two daughters, Bella and Celeste, lived in Frederick, Colo., includes photos and stuffed animals,
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Washington Post

A day after his pregnant wife and two daughters vanished, Christopher Watts stood in his frontyard and faced the parade of TV news cameras with uniform solemnity.

“I came home and walked in the house and nothing. Just vanished,” the 33-year-old husband and father told Denver’s KMGH on Tuesday.

“It just seems like I’m living in a nightmare and I can’t get out of it,” he told KUSA as officers from the Frederick Police Department led search dogs through the family’s 4,000-square-foot house.


“In my heart I believe she is somewhere, and I hope she is safe,” Watts told KDVR the same day while dogs barked in the house behind him.

There were no interviews the next day. Shortly before midnight, police returned to the house, quietly arrested Watts and began hauling trash bags out the front door.

Now the same TV stations that had interviewed the father are reporting that he has been jailed on charges of murder, and his family is dead.

Earlier in the week, when there seemed to be some hope of a happy ending, idyllic photos of the family plastered the news: 4-year-old Bella; her sister Celeste, 3; Christopher; and his wife, Shanann, 34, who was in her second trimester with the couple’s third child.

“She would take the kids to the pool, and he would always take them in a little wagon,” a neighbor in the subdivision told KUSA. “We were always impressed by his doting over them and how much he appeared to love them.”


Their life, however, wasn’t apparently perfect. Two years after buying their $400,000 house in 2013, the Wattses filed for bankruptcy protection. They were drowning in a mortgage and more than $50,000 in credit card debt, Bankruptcy Court documents show. His paycheck from an oil and gas company and hers from a children’s hospital weren’t nearly enough.

But they resolved the bankruptcy: A deal was struck with the creditors, they stayed in the house and the family kept growing.

This month, Shanann took a trip to Arizona to see her family and attend a conference for her new occupation, marketing a “lifestyle system” called Thrive.

“Everyone have an amazing day and absolutely fantastic month!” she wrote on Facebook before leaving.

It’s unclear if the girls went along with her or stayed home with their dad. KDVR reported that a friend picked Shanann Watts up at the airport when she returned from Arizona on Monday, dropped her off at home about 2 a.m. and never saw her again.

Another friend called police after Shanann missed a doctor’s appointment that morning, then didn’t answer her door, KMGH reported.


By Tuesday, state investigators and the FBI had joined the search. Posters of the family were being handed out to drivers around the neighborhood as Watts stepped into his driveway to tell the reporters what it felt like to find out they were missing.

“I was blowing through stoplights. I was blowing through everything just trying to get home as fast as I can, because none of this made sense,” he told KUSA.

He said he had left the house for work shortly after 5 a.m. on Monday — just a few hours after his wife came home from the airport.

“I texted her a few times, called her, but she never got back to me,” he told KMGH.

He figured she was just busy, he said. Only after one of Shanann’s friends called him and said she wasn’t at the house did he begin to worry.

“Just vanished,” Watts said. “Nothing was here. I mean she wasn’t here. The kids weren’t here. Nobody was here.”

Watts wanted to drive around looking for them, he said, but police told him it wouldn’t do any good. All he could do was sit in his house or stand in his yard, listening to police dogs bark while he described his emotions.


“Last night, I had every light in the house on,” he told KMGH. “I was hoping I would just get ran over by the kids, running through the door and just, like, barrel rushing me. But it didn’t happen.”

He paused a moment.

“I mean, the kids are my life,” he said. “I mean, those smiles light up my life. And just, like, I mean, last night, when they usually eat dinner, it was like, I miss them. I miss telling them, ‘Hey, you gotta eat that or you’re not gonna get your dessert.’ I miss that. I miss them, you know, cuddled up on their couches. They have like a Minnie Mouse couch and Sofia couch that they cuddle up on and watch Bubble Guppies, or something. And to just, like, you know, I was cr— it was.”

He sighed.

“It was tearing me apart last night.”

There was another pause as the TV station’s videographer shifted the angle.

“This might be a tough question,” the reporter asked, “but did you guys get into, like, an argument before she left?”

“It wasn’t an argument,” Watts said quickly. “We got into a conversation, but I’ll leave it at that.”

And then he talked some more about how much he missed them.

This interview, and others like it, played over the news through the afternoon and into Wednesday.A few oddities about the search began to leak out. Shanann’s friends said her phone, keys and wallet had all been found in the house, KMGH reported. Her car was still in the garage, per NBC News. No one who knew her said she was the type to just pick up and leave.

Late that afternoon, Frederick police held a short news conference.

“There is a lot at stake here, and we are exploring all avenues to not rule anything out,” a spokesman said.


After dark, more police vehicles began to show up at the Watts house.

Reporters photographed officers taking bags of evidence out and towing a pickup truck away. Things became clearer on Thursday morning.

At a terse news conference in the late morning, flanked by police and FBI agents, Colorado Bureau of Investigations Director John Camper announced “absolutely the worst possible outcome anybody could imagine.”

“We’ve recovered a body we’re quite certain is Shanann Watts,” he said. “We have strong reason to believe we know where bodies of the children are.”

A makeshift memorial outside the Watts family home in Frederick, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Their father was now officially a “suspect,” he said. His arrest warrant had been sealed by court order, and he remained jailed on three counts of evidence tampering and three counts of first-degree murder. The district attorney’s office is now reviewing whether to bring formal charges by Monday.

Officials said what they believe to be Shanann Watts’ body was found at a property belonging to Anadarko Petroleum, an oil company where Christopher Watts once worked, KMGH reported. And Thursday evening authorities announced that two bodies believed to be the children were found nearby.


Investigators released almost no other details about the killings or what made them suspect Watts, citing the need to protect an investigation that was only just beginning.

It’s unclear if Watts has a lawyer, and his wife’s family could not be reached for comment. But a relative sent a statement to KCNC-TV:

“It is with deep hurt, confusion and anger to confirm our beautiful cousin Shanann Watts, her unborn child, and her two angelic daughters, Bella (4), Celeste (3) were viciously murdered by husband Chris Watts; who confessed to the killings,” it reads.

The family’s house now sits unoccupied. In the same yard where Watts had spoke of his hopes and fears hours earlier, a memorial of crosses and stuffed bears lie in the grass.

Selk writes for the Washington Post.