ORANGEBURG -- On this, they all agree.
Shaquan Renee Duley was quiet. She spoke when spoken to, often with a smile.
She never gave her parents or her neighbors any trouble while growing up in an old mill village at the edge of the Orangeburg County's fairgrounds.
Until her arrest last Monday made national news, Duley lived an unremarkable life. She graduated from high school, bounced between jobs and struggled to raise three children.
For now, Shaquan Duley's family is not talking. But her friends are, and they say they want to know more about what led police to accuse the 29-year-old mother of smothering her young sons, driving them in her car to the North Edisto River and pushing them into the slow-moving water in hopes of covering up her crime.
Annette Blocker, a 65-year-old former neighbor, said she couldn't believe it when one of her daughters called Monday with news of the two murder charges against Duley.
"I said, 'Noooo! Something had to go wrong for Shaquan to do that,' " Blocker said. "What's wrong? I just don't know."
But police said the stress of being an unemployed, single mother was bearing down. Sunday night, the day before the boys were found, Duley had a fight with her mother and left the house they shared, taking her two boys, 2-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja'van with her, Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said. She left her 5-year-old daughter behind.
The fight with her mother started over who would give Ja'van a bath, said Chea Phelps, a 22-year-old friend who said she spoke to Shaquan Duley that night after Shaquan left the house.
"She was telling me she was tired," Phelps said. "She was fed up."
On Whaley Street
By all accounts, Shaquan Duley's childhood was typical for a middle-class black family.
Arthur and Helen Duley raised Shaquan and her younger sister, Adrian, in a small wood-frame house they bought in 1985 for $25,454.
Blocker, the neighbor, said Helen Duley's grandmother lived with them until she died in her mid-90s. Helen Duley would rise before the sun to bathe and feed her grandmother before heading off to work at an assisted living home, Blocker said.
Helen Duley kept a spotless home, she said.
"You would never go in there and smell a stink," Blocker said. "You couldn't tell a person was sick in there."
Helen Duley was strict with her daughters but made sure every need was cared for.
"She believed in a child being clean, fed and taken care of," Blocker said.
Shaquan Duley did well in school, friends said.
Shanti Dupree, who attended school with Shaquan Duley from first through 12th grade, remembers the two competing in a spelling bee in fourth grade.
Duley and Dupree were the two finalists, and the championship came down to who could correctly spell "homophone."
Duley misspelled it.
"I won, and she cried," Dupree said. "I felt bad because she cried."
Karlena Clark , 28, said she and Shaquan Duley became best friends their sophomore year at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The two weren't part of the in-crowd and didn't participate in clubs or sports. They just clowned around together and shared a love of Chinese food.
"We were just enjoying who we were," Clark said.
After high school, Duley took a few classes at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, Clark said. She did not earn a degree.
At some point, Duley reportedly worked at the Dairy-O, a burger and ice cream restaurant, in downtown Orangeburg. The lone employee who remembered Duley said she was quiet and showed up on time.
Shaquan and her sister continued to live with their mother.
Five years ago, Shaquan Duley gave birth to a daughter, Saniya Duley. Devean Christopher Duley was born in October 2007. His brother, Ja'van Tyrell Duley, followed in February 2009.
The children have the same father, but he has never been involved in their lives, said Clark, the high school friend. In fact, Clark said, she had never met the man and only knew his first name.
The Duley family ran into financial trouble after Shaquan graduated from high school.
In 2003, Sears took Helen Duley to court over an unpaid, $677 credit card bill, according to records at the Orangeburg County Courthouse.
In 2001, Arthur and Helen Duley took out a $48,000 mortgage on their Whaley Street home. But they were never able to pay the note.
The house was sold in May 2007 at a foreclosure auction at the Orangeburg County Courthouse for $25,000, court records show.
Family friends said that is about the time Arthur Duley, a security guard at S.C. State University, left the home. There are no divorce records on file at the courthouse.
Helen Duley and her daughters moved into their current home on Hammock Street, where half the houses are boarded up. The little yellow house was home to the three women, along with five children all younger than 5, since Adrian, Shaquan's sister, had two boys of her own.
Helen Duley continued working at the nursing home. Shaquan Duley was unemployed. It's unclear whether Adrian Duley had a job.
Money was tight.
The tension in the house ran high, said Phelps, the friend who said she spoke to Shaquan Duley the night before she was arrested.
The two women met in 2009 in an employment preparation program offered by the S.C. Department of Social Services.
After one class, Phelps said she saw Shaquan Duley leave the building with tears in her eyes. She asked her classmate what was wrong.
Shaquan Duley said she needed milk for her youngest son, Ja'van, but was out of her monthly food stamp allotment and did not have money. Phelps said she, her mother and grandmother drove Shaquan Duley to the store and paid for the milk.
"Ever since then, 'Quan has been part of my family," Phelps said.
Phelps and Shaquan Duley took online classes from the for-profit Everest University. Shaquan was trying to earn a degree in medical coding and billing.
"It's better to do online than a classroom because you don't have to worry about finding a baby sitter," Phelps said.
The two women shared long conversations about raising their children, hunting for jobs and the pressure they felt from their families. Both wanted their own apartments.
"We wanted to get up on our feet so we could start our lives right," Phelps said.
Duley also complained about the absence of her children's father.
"I told her that we're going to struggle whether our babies' fathers are in the picture or not," Phelps said.
Dupree, Shaquan's childhood friend, said Duley had always had a wide smile. But the last time they ran into each other at a grocery store earlier this year, the smile was missing.
"She didn't say much to me," Dupree said.
Clark, too, knew Shaquan was going through a hard time. She said she wishes her friend had turned to her for help.
Helen Duley pushed her daughter to do better, friends said.
"Her mother stayed on top of her," Phelps said.
However, reports that Helen Duley is a harsh mother who criticized her daughter are false, Clark said. Instead, Helen Duley was a concerned mother who opened her home to her two grown daughters and their children.
"That's not Miss Helen. She's not a monster," Clark said. "She was like any other mother. She wanted the best for her kids and grandkids. She never talked bad to her. She never talked bad about her. It was tough love."
In a news conference after Duley's arrest, Williams described Helen Duley as "firm." The mother and daughter had argued the night before, the sheriff said. He did not elaborate.
But Phelps said she knows what the argument was about because Shaquan told her in that last phone conversation Sunday.
Shaquan had been styling her daughter's hair for the girl's first day of school, Phelps said. She left the house to go to a beauty supply store, to buy more hair to weave into the girl's own. While she was gone, the youngest boy pulled off his diaper and soiled himself, Phelps said.
Shaquan Duley returned home just as Helen Duley and Adrian Duley were preparing to wash the 18-month-old. Helen Duley insisted she be the one to wash the little boy, and that's when the mother and daughter got into an argument, Phelps said.
Shaquan Duley called and was crying, Phelps said. She told her friend she was leaving home, and Phelps said she invited Duley to bring the boys to her fiance's house.
"She never showed up, and I got worried," Phelps said. "I called her all night long, and it went straight to voice mail."
Even though Shaquan might have been upset, her friends said they never could have imagined her doing what police have accused her of.
According to police reports, Shaquan Duley paid $35 for a room at Trumps Inn, an aging motor court on Five Chop Road, at 1:30 a.m. Monday. She checked into Room 31 in the back of the motel.
There, Shaquan allegedly placed her hands over her the mouths of Devean and Ja'van to smother them, the sheriff said. After the boys were dead, she put their bodies in their car seats in the back of her grey Chrysler sedan.
Shaquan then drove nearly 15 miles from the motel to a rural boat ramp off Shillings Bridge Road in northern Orangeburg County. Police said she pushed the car into the shallow river and then began walking back down the road.
Shortly after 6:30 a.m., she flagged down a motorist and told him there had been an accident at the bridge.
Police did not believe her story from the beginning. Williams has said Shaquan Duley's dry clothes were an immediate indication that she was not telling the truth. He said she confessed to the crime later that day.
Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty. Shaquan Duley's next court appearance will be a bail hearing.
Her attorney, Carl B. Grant , has said there is more to the story than what has been released to the public. That side will be revealed in time, he said.
Until then, family, friends and a curious public will search for answers that, if they come, still might not be easy to understand.
For now, family, friends, co-workers and church brethren of Helen Duley have drawn a tight circle around her. They have brought food to the house and turned reporters away at the front door.
As for Shaquan Duley, public condemnation has been swift and angry. A Facebook page entitled "Give Shaquan Duley what she deserves. Child murderer," has more than 2,000 members. People have left stinging comments calling for the death penalty and criticizing her lifestyle.
Those who call themselves Shaquan Duley's closest friends said that if she is found guilty, they cannot excuse her actions. Still, they said they will try to support her.