VIENNA, Va. -- In the days since police say her estranged husband drowned their three children in a Baltimore hotel bathtub, Dr. Amy Ashley Castillo has clung to her faith to survive.
"It's hard to tell you how much pain I'm feeling right now," Castillo said before dozens of reporters yesterday at McLean Bible Church, where she has been a longtime parishioner.
In her first public statements since Mark A. Castillo was charged with first-degree murder in the killings of their children - Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 2 - Amy Castillo spoke with measured calm despite the enormous crush of pain.
"I still am a follower of Jesus Christ," she said, her voice at times almost a whisper during the brief appearance, in which she made a statement and answered a handful of questions that were e-mailed in advance to church officials.
"The difficult part is, I don't understand it right now," she said. "I'm going to live in this life without my children."
She said that she is relieved "to know no one can harm them again, but they're in heaven with Jesus."
The 42-year-old pediatrician from Silver Spring said she had not noticed any "unusual behavior" when the children left with their father for a visit Saturday, and she noted that her encounter that day with Mark Castillo, 41, of Rockville, "had been brief."
In February, she said, the Montgomery County court system, where the two had waged a contentious custody and divorce fight, told Mark Castillo that the $500 a month in alimony she had been paying him would stop and that he had to start paying child support.
"All around, he was in trouble," she said.
Police say that on Saturday, Mark Castillo, instead of taking the children home to his estranged wife, drove to Baltimore and checked into the Marriott hotel on Eutaw Street near Camden Yards.
That evening, according to police charging documents, he drowned the children one by one in a tub and laid their bodies on a bed. He then told police he took 100 Motrin tablets and cut himself in the neck with a knife in an attempt to commit suicide.
He awoke about 1 p.m. Sunday and called the hotel's front desk to report what he had done, police said. He is being held in the Baltimore City Detention Center without bail, charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Twice in 2007, judges in Montgomery County denied Amy Castillo's pleas to restrict her husband's access to the children, once through a protection order, the other through a denial of visitation. Amy Castillo had told judges that her husband had repeatedly threatened to kill the children to punish her by leaving her alone.
Asked if the court system could have done more to protect the children, she said, "This is one of those things I need to think through. ... I do feel like there were some people ... who would not listen to me."
Amy Castillo said she hoped her children's deaths would result in change, "probably a better understanding of mental illness by the court system."
Yesterday, Kristen M. Mahoney, head of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said the state's newly empaneled Family Violence Prevention Council will be reviewing the Castillo case at its inaugural retreat this month.
The group, which represents a cross section of domestic violence victims' advocates and legal professionals, will be examining the case to determine whether state authorities followed proper procedures in dealing with the Castillo family and whether any laws need to be changed to prevent future cases like this one.
"The governor charged them with looking at this case specifically ... to see what we can do," Mahoney said.
Gov. Martin O'Malley said in an interview yesterday with The Sun's editorial board that his administration will talk to domestic violence victims' advocates to see whether the state's laws need to be tightened to offer families more protection from the threat of domestic violence.
"Whenever a tragedy like this happens, we have a responsibility and a moral obligation to look at how our public institutions have performed and see if there's any opportunity to recover some good out of this unspeakable tragedy," O'Malley said.
At the church in Virginia, Amy Castillo made a statement to other mothers who find themselves struggling with custody issues, advising them: "Sometimes you just have to be aggressive and pro-active."
She said that because she was afraid, she dodged her husband's court-ordered visitation, even when he once tried to have her held in contempt of court. "Sometimes I took the children and hid them in someone's house," she said. "I was willing to accept the consequences."
With friends by her side, Amy Castillo remembered her children. Anthony, the eldest, was "very sweet, very gentle and very loving," she said. He excelled in school and "loved all the girls in his class."
Her middle child, Austin, was "eccentric and unique and creative and very smart," she said. With only the hint of smile, she added, "Austin was kind of bad sometimes."
She recalled a conversation between the two boys around Easter: "Austin told Anthony, 'When I die, I am going to be in heaven with Jesus.'
"Anthony said, 'You can't bring your toys with you.'"
The youngest, Athena, was "very sweet and smiley," she said. "I feel like I barely got to know her. She was only 2."