Before her life ended violently this week, Paula Peeples O'Neal wrote about being distraught, about possibly ending her own life.
Authorities pieced that information together from writings they found in her James Island home, where the 58-year-old housekeeper died Wednesday morning.
But what remained unclear as investigators announced their findings Friday was whether O'Neal ever mentioned her 10-year-old grandson in those alleged plans.
The two were together in their Howle Avenue home when O'Neal came at the boy with a knife and attacked him, authorities said. The boy also grabbed a knife during the struggle, they said, and fought back.
"He had no choice but to defend himself," Maj. Eric Watson of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office said. "At some point, he managed to break free by using a knife."
Despite cuts, including wounds on his wrist and his neck, the boy survived the ordeal and ran to the safety of a neighbor's house. His grandmother was still inside the duplex at 349A Howle Ave. when he left.
Law officers later found the knife that the boy said he threw into a ditch as he ran. Inside the home, they came across more knives and O'Neal's body.
She had used one of them to cut her own neck after her grandson escaped, Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said. Her death was ruled a suicide.
"The reasons that people commit suicide are as varied as the people and their life experiences," Wooten said. "It's not unheard of ... that parents about to take their lives will take the lives of other people significant to them. Sometimes, it's a spouse. Sometimes, it's children."
The bloody episode had perplexed investigators, the family's neighbors and other loved ones. But many of them still struggled to make sense of the tragedy after Friday's announcement.
Through Facebook comments, some of O'Neal's relatives asked people to respect the findings.
"If you want to help in a case such as this, pray for all members of our family," said Vickie Troutt, who identified herself as O'Neal's niece. "We want to move forward and start healing."
The boy remained hospitalized Friday in fair condition, and he was expected to recover. He was in the custody of the S.C. Department of Social Services, Watson said.
DSS caseworkers had not been involved with the boy and his family before this week, agency spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said.
It was unclear whether he would be sent back to live with his grandfather, 55-year-old Richard O'Neal.
Sheriff's deputies had responded to their house, which includes two apartments, only one other time since they moved there a few years ago. That call about "suspicious circumstances" came in 2012, Watson said, but deputies did not complete an incident report about it.
The most recent call came at 11 a.m. Wednesday after the boy sought help from a neighbor, who dialed 911.
He had told the neighbor that his grandmother tried to kill him, according to the call, but that he had managed to get one of the knives involved and free himself.
O'Neal outweighed her grandson by about 75 pounds, according to a sheriff's report. She was about 14 inches taller.
Investigators hadn't been able to pin down what happened before the attack, Watson said.
The coroner also declined to go into further detail about the writings that indicated O'Neal's intentions. They expressed, Wooten said, that O'Neal was "distraught, that she was contemplating taking her own life."
Wooten also would not say whether O'Neal might have been suffering any medical conditions because they were not pertinent to how she died.
"We do believe there was an effort to harm the child," Watson said. "She, in turn, killed herself."
O'Neal's body was found in a bedroom after her husband returned home as paramedics tended to the boy a few houses down.
She had died of what Wooten called an "incised" wound, or a deliberate cut, to her neck. The coroner didn't consider any of the other injuries on O'Neal's body to be life-threatening.
Deputies have relied on the boy's account to explain parts of what happened, but they said certain aspects of his story could not be confirmed.
Like any adult who experiences violence, the boy's recollection of the crime might not be "on the mark," the coroner added.
"He's a 10-year-old who, regardless of what the incident involved, has been through a really traumatic experience," Wooten said. "He's the only witness we have."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
A chaplain with the Coastal Carolina Chaplaincy (right) talks with family members and neighbors of a grandmother who stabbed herself to death.×
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