It was the mystery, he said, that he couldn’t stand.
On Tuesday — in the hours between the strange disappearances of his pregnant wife and two young daughters and his arrest in their suspected murders — 33-year-old Chris Watts stood outside the family’s home in Frederick, Colorado, and pleaded for their return.
“If somebody has her and they’re not safe, I want them back now,” Watts told local TV station KMGH of wife Shannan, 34, and their girls, 4-year-old Bella and 3-year-old Celeste.
“That’s what is in my head. If they’re safe right now, they’re going to come back,” he continued. “But if they’re not safe right now, that’s the not-knowing part. Last night I had every light in the house on, I was hoping that I would just get ran over by the kids just running in and barrel-rushing me, but it didn’t happen. And it was just a traumatic night trying to be here.”
Chris’ comments, made Tuesday in interviews with local stations KMGH and KUSA, both appear to have been recorded around the same time right outside of the Watts’ house.
“Hopefully they can pick something up where it’s going to lead to something, he said, adding, “If not safe, that’s what’s tearing me apart. But if they’re not, this has got to stop, someone has got to come forward.”
As Chris spoke with reporters, investigative efforts continued around him — the very thing that would eventually lead police to allege that he knew all along where Shanann and their daughters were because was the one who killed them.
He remains in jail on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with a body. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
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Chris’ arrest Wednesday night, and the discovery Thursday of his three alleged victims, has re-cast his Tuesday interviews, drawing renewed scrutiny to every part of them as observers wonder what they really show.
Was he too emotionless? Did he seem tellingly uncomfortable? Why did he keep his arms crossed? And the occasional hitches in his voice: Could those be nerves or swells of emotion?
And what did this mean? When asked what Chris would say to those who suspected him in the case, he replied, “Everyone is going to have their own opinion on anything like this. I just want people to know that I want my family back, I want them safe, I want them here.”
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In court on Thursday, prosecutors said — without elaborating — that they believe Shanann was killed along with their daughters in their house. The trio was reported missing Monday afternoon about 12 hours after Shanann returned from a business trip in Arizona.
Causes of death have not yet been released and investigators have not commented on a possible motive, though a family friend told PEOPLE that Chris and Shanann “were having marital problems and she was getting ready to leave him.”
On Thursday Shanann’s body was recovered from the property of an oil and gas company where Chris had worked and, later that day, authorities said the suspected remains of her girls were found nearby.
On Tuesday, in one of many now-eerie portents in his TV interviews, Chris said the apparent disappearances had scarred their home.
“This house is not the same, last night was traumatic,” he told KUSA. “Last night was — I can’t really stay in this house again with nobody here.”
He said he saw his wife briefly after she flew back from Arizona, shortly before 2 a.m., and they had “an emotional conversation.”
“I’ll leave it at that,” he said. He later learned his wife was gone, he said, after a friend of hers said she had been unreachable.
“That’s when I came home and then walked in the house. And nothing — vanished,” he said. “She wasn’t here. The kids weren’t here.”
More than once Chris raised the idea that Shanann had simply taken their daughters and gone away, a preferable outcome to something more nefarious. Speaking with KUSA, he said, “I’m just hoping that she’s somewhere safe and maybe she’s just there, but right now if she’s vanished I want her back so bad, I want those kids back so bad.”
“Could she have just taken off?” he wondered to KMGH. “I don’t know.”
In a rare burst of effusion in his interviews on Tuesday, Chris’ face split into a grin describing his children, whom he called “my life.”
“Celeste, she’s just a ball of energy, I call her ‘Rampage’ because she’s got just two speeds: go or she’s sleeping. And she’s always the troublemaker, she’s always the one just yelling at you,” he said. “And Bella, she’s the more calm, cautious, mothering type. She’s more like me, she’s more calm. But Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality to where she’s always just gung-ho, ready to go.”
So where could they have gone?
“I have never seen something like this in my lifetime, except on TV or in a movie,” he said, “and it seems like I am living in a nightmare and I can’t get out of it.”