A 30-year-old Wilmington woman, who called city police early Monday worried about her immigration status after her boyfriend was detained by federal authorities, has been charged in the deaths of her infant son and a 5-year-old boy in her care.
Police were called later that morning by the same woman and found the children drowned in a bathtub in a Trinity Vicinity-area apartment located in the 800 block of W. Ninth St. in Wilmington.
Kula Pelima was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. She was being held at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution after failing to post $2 million cash bail, Chief Robert Tracy said at a Tuesday press briefing.
“She was concerned about her immigration status,” Tracy said of Pelima’s initial call to police at about 3:45 a.m. Monday. “She’s a Liberian immigrant that came to the country in 1997, and she was worried about what could happen to her because her boyfriend … [the father of both boys] was picked up also by the feds on some immigration issues on Oct. 6.”
Pelima called 911 again, at about 8:30 a.m. Monday, telling the operator that she had drowned the children, Tracy said. She met responding officers at the door of her first-floor apartment and directed them to the bathroom tub where they found the two boys’ bodies.
“At the same time, there was a strong smell (of natural gas) in the apartment,” Tracy said.
Investigators have not determined why the stove’s gas had been left on.
A city police official said Pelima is in the country legally. Wilmington police did not know why her boyfriend, identified as Victor Epelle, originally from Nigeria, had been detained in Pennsylvania by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
An officer who went to her home after the 3:45 call told Pelima that they were not interested in arresting her and gave her the Delaware Helpline phone number so she could get answers from the state. The officer saw the 5-year-old boy during that early morning visit and did not see anything indicating distress in the home, Tracy said.
While documents obtained from Justice of the Peace Court 20 stated the children were hers, Tracy said the older boy, Alex Epelle, 5, was not her biological son. The younger child, Solomon Epelle, 3 months, was.
Police contacted Victor Epelle, who is the father of both boys and is being held in York, Pennsylvania, Tracy said.
A federal court database shows no deportation records for Epelle.
The mother of the older boy has not yet been located, Tracy said. She hasn’t been part of his life for “several years,” he said.