Police said Sunday that the death of an 8-year-old girl who was severely mentally and physically disabled was an attempted murder-suicide.
The mother, Christel "Jenny" Johnson, 53, was arrested Sunday on a charge of murder.
A caregiver discovered Johnson and her daughter Lylah, who suffered from cerebral palsy, on Friday afternoon inside a van in the family's garage.
The car engine was running at the time and a hose was hooked from the tailpipe into the vehicle, according to Lt. Jeff Tudor, spokesman for the San Leandro Police Department.
The girl was taken to Children's Hospital in Oakland, where she was pronounced dead. The mother was taken to Eden Medical Center. She survived and is currently in police custody.
Lylah Johnson was severely mentally and physically disabled, neighbors said. She could not walk or speak and had trouble breathing. She and her mother lived alone on the corner of Leonard Drive and Maria Drive, near I-880 and Davis Street.
One neighbor, who seemed to know the family well but did not want to be identified, said the girl has had severe cerebral palsy since birth. She required constant care, neighbors said, and Johnson employed caregivers and physical therapists to help her out at home.
Several neighbors described Johnson as a loving mother and said they couldn't imagine she would want to harm her daughter.
"That's the last thing I would think," said a woman who lives next door to the Johnsons.
"She really loved her daughter," said another neighbor.
Despite their belief that Johnson was devoted to her daughter, neighbors indicated that caring for the girl was stressful.
"She was angry at the world for her life being the way it was," said one neighbor, who said Johnson would often come over to vent her frustrations. "She was overwhelmed," the neighbor said.
Johnson obsessed over having the absolute best care for her daughter, said the neighbor, who works with disabled children at a local school. She was meticulous about the girl's dress and hygiene, she said.
Johnson hired and fired caregivers often, neighbors said, and frequently called the police for perceived infractions by caregivers, and even by neighbors.
"She would call the police on everybody," Johnson's next-door neighbor said.
When the same neighbor saw the police cars arrive on Friday afternoon, she assumed it was just another of Johnson's problems with her employees, she said.
She and other neighbors said the police had been to the house just days earlier.
Neighbors said besides her daughter's caregivers and health specialists, Johnson also employed people to keep house and maintain the yard.
But she appeared to have little contact with family members, neighbors said. Two neighbors said they thought Laila's father lived in town but had never seen him at the house.
Neighbors said they tried to be nice to Johnson and her daughter but were afraid to help out too much, or go over to the house, for fear of doing something that would anger Johnson.
One described Laila as a "precious baby, a beautiful baby."
"We just loved her, that's the hardest part," the neighbor said.
The case marks the third homicide in San Leandro this year.