The mother of two young girls whose bodies were discovered in rural Pennsylvania last November has testified that she, her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s parents intentionally starved and tortured them.
In court on Wednesday, 32-year-old Marie Snyder testified that she and Echo Butler, 26, withheld food from the girls. The emaciated bodies of Nicole Elisabeth and Jasmine Jean Snyder were found in a shallow grave in Hepburn Township, Pennsylvania.
Authorities also charged Echo Butler’s parents, Ronald and Michele Butler, who lived in a rented home with Echo and Snyder and allegedly helped them starve the children and conceal the evidence.
The girls had last been seen in 2015. According to court documents cited by WOLF-TV, authorities launched an investigation in September 2021 following a tip that Snyder’s 7-year-old son was not enrolled in school, prompting a visit to Snyder’s Williamsport home by an agent with Lycoming County Children and Youth Services.
Authorities then noted the absence of Snyder’s daughters, who by that time would have been ages 11 and 8, respectively. Snyder said the girls were living with a friend and being home-schooled.
But after child welfare officials could not locate them, they enlisted law enforcement to carry out a search warrant at the home, where police discovered the girls’ bodies.
They believe that Nicole was 6 when she died and that Jasmine was 4.
Four people have been charged with felonies in this case. Police have charged Echo Butler with first-degree murder. Echo’s father, Ronald Butler, has been charged with two counts of endangering a child and obstruction of child abuse cases. Ronald Butler’s wife, Michele, has been charged with third-degree murder.
Snyder has been charged with first-degree murder, PEOPLE confirms. She has waived her preliminary hearing and testified for the prosecution. According to the Harrisburg Patriot News, District Attorney Ryan C. Gardner said that Snyder wanted to do something right for her daughters after failing them while they were alive.
According to the newspaper, Snyder broke down into tears when she described Nicole’s death, saying that she didn’t give the girl food or water for two weeks in May 2016.
“They were being starved and beaten every day,” Snyder testified, according to NorthCentralPA.com. “Echo would grab their throats so they couldn’t breathe, and choke them until their eyes would roll back into their heads.”
According to Snyder, she called 911 but was told by Echo Butler and Michele Butler to hang up before the dispatcher could answer. When the dispatcher called back, Snyder said that the call had been a mistake.
Snyder testified that Echo Butler dug a shallow grave on the property at 653 Livermore Road and added mothballs to cover up the odor of decomposition.
Jasmine was initially treated well after Nicole’s death, but Snyder says that they starved her in August 2017. She testified that Jasmine only weighed five pounds at her death and that her bones were visible. She was buried next to her sister after she died.
Snyder testified that Echo and Michele Butler told her to tell people that the girls had gone to live with their father. All the girls’ belongings were burned, she claimed.
All four defendants are being held without bond and have pleaded not guilty in the case. Their attorneys did not immediately return messages for comment.