A bitter custody battle and 3 young lives lost in California

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Photos, candles, flowers and balloons are placed as a memorial for three children who were killed at the Royal Villa apartments complex in the Reseda section of Los Angeles, on Monday, April 12, 2021. Authorities have identified 3-year-old Joanna Denton Carrillo, her 2-year-old brother, Terry, and 6-month-old sister, Sierra, as the three young children who were killed over the weekend. Their mother is the suspect in their deaths and was being held in a central California jail. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

LOS ANGELES – Erik Denton was supposed to see his three young children last Sunday, the one day every other week that he was allowed to be with them.

Three-year-old Joanna, her 2-year-old brother, Terry, and 6-month-old sister, Sierra, had been staying with their mother — Denton's ex-girlfriend — in Los Angeles. Fearful for their safety, their father had petitioned the court for custody March 1, alleging their mother, Liliana Carrillo, was delusional and had taken the kids and refused to tell him where they were.

Carrillo, in turn, filed a restraining order against him and claimed Denton was an alcoholic who may have sexually abused their eldest child.

As the case wound through family courts in Tulare and Los Angeles counties, the parents traded accusations in dozens of pages of documents. Police were called, social workers were consulted, alarming text messages and Facebook posts were saved as legal exhibits.

A week ago, a Los Angeles judge agreed to move the case to Tulare County, where a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

It would be too late.

The children were found dead Saturday by their maternal grandmother in her Los Angeles apartment. Carrillo was their suspected killer and was arrested in Tulare County, nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of the scene.

LA detectives are seeking her extradition as the coroner's office conducts autopsies on the children. Capt. Chris Waters, who oversees the LAPD's Juvenile Division, said the investigation is ongoing. She offered her condolences and said the deaths were particularly tragic during National Child Abuse Prevention Month.