Expert: Severe mental illness to blame in I-495 deaths

Aaron Wasserman

The case of a Bellingham, Mass., woman walking into traffic on Interstate 495 with her young niece and nephew is "very rare," a criminology expert said Saturday.

Jack Levin, co-director of Northeastern University's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, said the people who commit such crimes are usually adult males, with their own children involved and an apparent motive.

"None of these things apply," Levin said. "Instead, this looks like a product of severe mental illness, a delusional state, where the woman acted out of a perverted sense of love, an altruism.

"I would speculate that she convinced herself she was doing the children a favor, that they had to die, that somehow they would be better off dead," Levin said.

In what was originally thought to be an accident, the woman, Marcelle Thibault, 39, drove in the wrong direction on I-495 the night of Jan. 11 before pulling over, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said Friday. She then removed her and the children's clothes, and carried the kids into traffic, where two cars struck them, Leone said.

Thibault, her 5-year-old niece, Kaleigh Lambert, and 4-year-old nephew, Shane Lambert, died shortly after.

Leone said Friday he believed a brief mental condition in Thibault's past caused the incident. He would not give details about her medical history.

A family spokesman said Saturday that Thibault had been treated within the past year for a brief mental illness, but appeared fine Jan. 11 at her twin sister's house in New Hampshire, where she picked up her niece and nephew for a party in Bellingham.

"There was no indication of anything at all. Nobody really knows what happened," said spokesman and family friend Paul Young, adding, "there was no sign of a relapse, or anything along those lines."

Thibault's extended family has remained close and their friends supportive, Young said.

"They love Marci and the kids, and they still do," he said, using Thibeault's nickname. "They're praying for them every day. Nothing has changed in that regard. It's just another layer of the tragedy and sorrow. In terms of the love that was there, it's still there and is just as strong."

No one appeared to be at Thibault's home at the end of a Bellingham cul-de-sac Saturday. Outside her parents' nearby house, there were six cars parked in the driveway and the blinds were drawn.

At Salon Richard in town, owner Jakki Pavone said her clients had been talking about the incident "all day."

"I hate hearing about it," said Pavone, adding it troubled her even more as a parent of three. "It's an awful situation. What a turn for the family. The mother loses not only her two children but her sister."

Michael Davies, 56, shopping in the town center, said, "It's a terrible tragedy. I don't think anyone can understand that -- how it happened."

Andrea Rempelakis, a 17-year-old Bellingham High School senior, said the incident was the topic of many conversations.

"It's a big shock for Bellingham," she said. "Everyone's really shocked at the whole thing. We heard about the accident, but then hearing more and more, everyone is shocked about it all."

The two drivers who hit Thibault, her niece and her nephew will not be charged, Leone said. Neither driver could be reached for comment Saturday.

Since the incident was reported, family and friends have described Thibault as a caring mother and person. Levin, the Northeastern criminologist, said those details are the only ones that fit any sort of pattern in similar circumstances.

"That's the one typical characteristic of this particular murder-suicide: It comes out of a delusional sense of love," Levin said. "It is that kind of caring that is being indicated by the family, friends and neighbors, who all saw her as a very decent, loving person, and I'm sure she was."

He added, "In this delusional state, she may have thought the right thing was to take their lives."

Aaron Wasserman may be reached at 508-634-7546 or