"Danger to Children"

Why did Kelly Blake douse her kids with gas and set them on fire? She's seriously mentally ill -- and she was deserted by the system charged with protecting her and her family.

-- undated entry from Kelly Blake's diary

Kelly Blake toiled to pull her life together after her stay at the county mental ward. She continued with her house-cleaning business, took classes at GateWay Community College, attended church regularly and, as always, spent most of her time with her children.

In July 1993, she found steady work as a driver for the company that runs the Dial-A-Ride program.

An undated drawing from Kelly Blake's diary. It's not clear who drew the stick figures of two boys and a girl.
An undated drawing from Kelly Blake's diary. It's not clear who drew the stick figures of two boys and a girl.
Kelly Blake's three children.
Kelly Blake's three children.

The job started at only $4.88 an hour, but she says she loved it, and bonded with many of her riders -- some of whom had physical handicaps. One of them, Phoenix resident John Mollis, who suffers from cerebral palsy, recalls:

"Kelly was a sweetie. She showed me a lot of compassion, and she was always talking about how proud she was of her children. I knew she had a lot on her mind, but never, never, never would I have ever thought she'd hurt them."

With a steady paycheck coming in, Blake rented her own apartment in October 1993, near North Seventh Street and Glendale Avenue. She says she chose that area so her kids could matriculate in the highly regarded Madison School District.

"I was impressed with Kelly from the start," says her landlord at the time, Reyna Mitchell. "I had met the children when she had come to our office, and was also impressed by them. They respected their mom, and sat quietly at our reception area looking through magazines. The older boy [Johnny] even shared his chair and talked about the magazines with the little ones."

But the $525 monthly rent proved to be more taxing than Blake had reckoned. Her payments lagged, though Mitchell allowed her to pay late when she had to.

The pressures of Blake's life again overcame her. In March 1994, she applied to enter the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's medical program for indigents. Days after she was accepted, she checked into Phoenix's St. Joseph's Hospital.

"Patient apparently has been under a lot of stress, mostly from home," says a hospital note from April 2, 1994. "She has developed some anxiety, and is very stressed. She has not been able to sleep. She denies any suicidal ideations. She just wants to get some rest and relax, so she can take care of her kids ..."

St. Joe's sent her home with some prescriptions.

Ten days later, on April 12, Blake drove to the Maricopa Medical Center, claiming that she was too anxious to sleep.

She had "many stressors," a doctor there wrote, including three young children, no support from her family, long hours at work, and little money: "Has had ... racing thoughts, sweats, some feelings of paranoia. These attacks last a couple of hours -- she talks herself down."

Blake agreed to meet a few days later with a ComCare caseworker. She didn't show up.

Blake gave notice at her apartment complex soon after that. Josephine Fausto agreed to take her in again on Clarendon. Losing her independence was a blow, Blake says, but she saw no alternative.

She also took made another significant adjustment. With her move back to Clarendon, Madison School District officials told her she'd have to transfer her children -- then ages 10, 8 and 5 -- to another district. Longview Elementary is a short walk from the home on Clarendon, but Blake says she didn't like the school.

Instead, Blake home-schooled her kids -- "I did a lot of Bible-based stuff, and taught them a lot of crafts and other practical stuff," she says -- from then until March 20, 1998.

"I'm not going to make it through."

-- Kelly Blake, at the Southwest Behavioral Health Services Urgent Care Center, February 23, 1998

In late 1995, the Dial-A-Ride company fired Blake; she hadn't returned to work after taking a two-month leave of absence. She scraped by without the benefit of food stamps or other welfare aid for which she'd have qualified. She'd also let her AHCCCS card lapse, and she and the kids again had no health-care insurance.

Blake did odd jobs at a mobile-home park for a time, then in August 1996 was hired part-time as a maintenance worker at a condo complex on Palm Lane.

But her mind continued to betray her. Blake wasn't getting counseling, and wasn't taking any medicine to help control her chronic mental illness. She'd also had a falling-out with her church.

"They kicked her out because she said she wasn't in the Spirit, or something," Blake's son Johnny later told police.

Her explanation: "I've always had a rebel streak in me, and I got crossways with some of the people there, that's it."

Blake's relationship with Josephine Fausto was fragile. The older woman didn't charge her rent, which was a godsend. But the strain in the small home on Clarendon sometimes was palpable.

In January 1998, Blake made amends with her old church. But it couldn't provide a haven from the demons of her encroaching mental illness.

"My son asked me, 'Mom, why didn't you tell me how bad you were feeling?' I told him he was just a kid at the time, that's why."

-- Kelly Blake, in an interview last week with New Times

On the evening of February 23, 1998, Kelly Blake drove to Southwest Behavioral's urgent care center on East Thomas Road for help.

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