Kids drown in locked car after mom goes into Mississippi convenience store, cops say

A Mississippi mother faces negligent manslaughter charges after she ran into a convenience store on Saturday and left her children locked in her car — then came back to find the vehicle had rolled into a nearby creek, according to police.

Police said they were called to Deer Creek in Leland around 5:45 p.m. on reports that three children were stuck in the woman’s locked Nissan Pathfinder as it drifted through the water.

Firefighters and witnesses were at the creek before police arrived and the fire chief and others went into the water, trying to break open the windows of the floating SUV to rescue the children, police wrote in a Sunday Facebook post on the incident.

Only one of the children, 2-year-old Raelynn Johnson, could be rescued from the SUV as it floated off, police said. The rescuers then had to swim back themselves as the SUV “drifted further down and into the creek,” according to police.

Volunteer firefighters kept hunting for the SUV, and a rescue dive team soon joined the search for the vehicle, which finally turned up at 8 p.m., police said.

A towing company pulled the Nissan out of the water, and the two other children — Steve Smith, 4, and Rasheed Johnson Jr., 1 — were both inside. Police said the Washington County coroner pronounced the boys dead just after 8:30 p.m.

Jenea Monique Payne, the children’s 25-year-old mother, said she left the three children in the SUV as she went into a Stop-N-Shop store, but came out to find it had disappeared, according to police.

Leland police said they arrested Payne on Monday on two negligent manslaughter charges and one charge of child neglect, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reports.

Leland Assistant Chief of Police Marcus Davis said Payne was inside the shop for between five and 10 minutes, according to the Clarion Ledger.

Police shared photos of the children on Facebook. That post had been shared thousands of times within hours on Sunday night.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.