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Andrea Yates 'grieves for her children' 15 years after she drowned them

KPRC2's Phil Archer reflects on covering story

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(Getty Images)

HALLSVILLE , Texas – Fifteen years ago, Rusty Yates returned home from work to find his five children had been drowned, at the hands of his wife, Andrea Yates.

All these years later, NBC's Janet Shamlian sat down with one of the few people to remain in contact with Andrea as she lives out her days in a mental hospital.

In June 2001, Andrea drowned her children in the bathtub of her Houston-area home and called 911 to report what she'd done.

"You need an ambulance," the emergency dispatcher asked.

Yates replied, "No, I need a police officer. Yeah, send an ambulance."

Noah, John, Paul, Luke and baby Mary ranged in age from 7 years old to 6 months old.

Her husband, Rusty Yates was at work at the time of the drowning. KPRC 2 reporter Phil Archer was the first reporter on the scene.

"Cops were crying. There was a lot of emotion there. They were the guys that had gone in that house and had to recover the bodies," Archer said. "They brought Andrea out and her clothes were still wet, and her hair was still wet form the bathtub. And they brought her out, and she looked like a zombie. There was a sort of wildness in her eyes."

Even with a long and documented history of mental illness, including suicide attempts, she was charged and convicted of capital murder.

The verdict was later overturned. In a subsequent trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She testified that she believed her children's deaths would save their souls.

Andrea Yates was committed to a Texas mental hospital where she remains today at 52-years-old.

Her attorney George Parnham, who has been her attorney since the initial trial, said he talks to her on a weekly basis.

"I'd say probably about every seven or eight days," he said.

Parnham said Andrea Yates is doing "remarkably well."

"There's not a day that goes by where she doesn't care for, talk about, is happy for her childrens' lives before June the 20th and grieves for her children," Parnham said.

He said Andrea Yates spends her days at the facility making crafts. According to people magazine, the crafts are sold anonymously to benefit charity. She also spends time watching videos of her children.

"The hospital where she is, there are no razor wires, there's no bars, there's no armed guards, no fences," Parnham said.

For the most part, it's a life of solitude. She never leaves the hospital and has few visitors. While her case comes up for review yearly, Andrea Yates has never sought to be released.

Rusty Yates divorced Andrea Yates three years after the incident. He later remarried and had a son, who is now 8. According to recent court documents, his second wife filed for divorce last year.

In an interview last April with Oprah Winfrey, he spoke about his process of grieving and acceptance.

"For some reason, when I think of them, I think about them today, as being, you know, teenagers or young adults," Rusty Yates said.

His oldest son would be 20.

"It's real easy to get caught up in the fact that they suffered, or that they're gone. And what I tried to do was say, 'Look, I'm not going let these events steal, you know, that joy, the joy that we had for those seven years," Rusty Yates said.