Smyrna police arrested a 25-year-old mother Thursday after her two young children were found dead of apparent heat stroke.
Three-year-old Daniel Marise and two-year-old Savanna Marise were discovered by investigators around 3:45 p.m. lying near a parked car outside their home located at 9584 Old Nashville Highway in Smyrna, about 25 miles southeast of Nashville.
The children's mother, Samantha Harper, is charged with two counts of especially aggravated child abuse.
She told police she put the children in her car and went back into her home and fell asleep.
Smyrna investigators said they believe the children were trapped inside the car in the sweltering heat before someone pulled them out.
The air temperature Thursday afternoon was in the mid-90s. Inside the vehicle it was likely much hotter.
"You put someone in a car with the windows rolled up, with no ventilation, it can increase the temperature easy 30 to 40 degrees inside the vehicle," Sgt. Bobby Gibson explained.
The medical examiner will perform autopsies on the children to determine the exact cause of death.
Neighbors have since started a makeshift memorial outside the family's home.
Chrystal Stover tearfully brought her five-year-old Autumn to the site where they dropped off a teddy bear next to a bouquet of flowers.
"I just think it's sad, but God is looking over them," said Autumn as she clutched her mother's side.
"Its heartbreaking to our community, they were just innocent little kids," added her mother, Chrystal.
"It's really sad and I don't know how any parent could let their kid get into that situation and do that to their kid," Teresa Alrodhni said.
Following her arrest, authorities condemned Harper's home after finding the residence in deplorable conditions. "Danger" and "Condemned" signs were posted on the entrances to the home within hours.
"We are going to follow every lead that we [get]. We are going to speak to everyone that we can that had knowledge of the children [and the] conditions of the home," Sgt. Gibson said, adding, "It's hard to imagine that people would allow themselves to live in the conditions this house was in."
Harper remains behind bars in Rutherford County on a $200,000 bond. Her first court appearance is set for August 9.