SAN ANTONIO - The grandmother of two children shot by their mother inside a Texas welfare office said Wednesday her former daughter-in-law had a history of mental problems leading up to the standoff in a state building where the struggling family had been denied food stamps.
One of children appeared to post a chilling update on Facebook while Rachelle Grimmer squared off with police. The profile of Ramie Grimmer, 12, was updated to read "may die 2day" just hours before authorities say her mother shot the girl and her brother, then killed herself to end the seven-hour standoff.
Ramie Grimmer and Timothy, 10, remained in critical condition Wednesday.
They had moved to Texas this summer from Ohio. The state denied Grimmer's application for food stamps in August, but Mary Lee Shepherd said her grandchildren's mother had problems beyond trying to feed her family.
"My son knew she was mentally ill and tried to get her help," said Shepherd, who lives in Helena, Mont.
Shepherd said her son Dale Grimmer, the children's father, was flying Wednesday from Montana to San Antonio hospital to be with the children.
Dale and Rachelle Grimmer divorced six or seven years ago, after Rachelle and the children moved from Montana to Ohio, Shepherd said. Dale Grimmer also moved to Ohio and was able to visit the children from time to time, but Rachelle Grimmer moved and did not inform him or the court, Shepherd said.
Shepherd said she or her son contacted social workers in Montana twice and in Ohio once because they were concerned that Rachelle Grimmer could harm the children. Shepherd declined to detail her former daughter-in-law's mental problems or say what caused them to make those calls.
Shepherd's claims could not immediately be verified Wednesday with state child welfare officials in Montana and Ohio. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said its agency had no file of the family.
When the family entered the office on Monday shortly before it closed, Rachelle Grimmer asked to speak to a new caseworker, and not the one whom she worked with before, Texas Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said.
Grimmer was taken to a private room to discuss her case, then she revealed a gun and the standoff began, Goodman said.
Police negotiators stayed on the phone with Grimmer throughout the evening, but she kept hanging up, Laredo police investigator Joe Baeza said. She allegedly told negotiators about a litany of complaints against state and federal government agencies.
Grimmer let a supervisor go unharmed around 7:45 but stayed inside the office with her children. After hanging up the phone around 11:45, police heard three shots, and a riot police team entered the building. Inside, they found Grimmer's body and her two wounded children.
The children were "very critical" and unconscious, Baeza said.
Goodman said it's not unusual for caseworkers to confront angry or confused benefit-seekers, but that it's very rare for a situation to escalate to violence.
Baeza said Grimmer had recently moved to the border city from Ohio.
Grimmer first applied for food stamps in July but was denied because she didn't turn in enough information, Goodman said. She said it wasn't immediately clear what information was missing.
"We were still waiting, and if we had that, I don't know if she would still qualify or not," Goodman said.
Goodman didn't know whether Grimmer had a job, or whether her children were covered under Medicaid or the state children's health insurance program.
The family's move from Ohio may have complicated Grimmer's application if the family had no Texas records the agency could check electronically, Goodman said.
State welfare offices have come under scrutiny in the past for being overburdened, but Goodman said the agency has made significant progress in the past three years. She said wait times are shorter, and that Grimmer was scheduled for her initial interview just one day after applying. Grimmer didn't make the appointment, she said.
Shepherd said the standoff and shooting never should have happened, but that she hopes this case will result in people treating such intervention requests more seriously.
"They should have gave her the food stamps and followed up and then got the children out of there," Shepherd said. "I don't know what's going to happen, and my son is terribly distraught, but you know, something good can come out of this where somebody will start listening.
Goodman said an agency supervisor tried calling Grimmer on her cell phone five days before the shooting, but no one answered and the voicemail box was full.