ORANGEBURG -- Helene Duley wanted her daughter to take better care of the kids. Shaquan Duley told investigators she just wanted to be free.

In the end, two toddlers lost their lives at the hands of their mother, smothered in a nondescript motel where they spent their last moments struggling for breath, authorities said.

Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said Tuesday in a news conference that Shaquan Duley was charged with two counts of murder. She admitted to killing the children but showed little remorse, he said.

Williams said Duley is scheduled for an arraignment hearing Wednesday afternoon in Orangeburg.

"She just wanted to get rid of the children," Williams said.

He wasn't sure if the killings were premeditated. He said Duley strapped her dead children into her Chrysler sedan and left the motel. The car was found submerged in the murky waters of the North Edisto River.

To investigators, it was soon clear that the mother's story didn't add up. Somehow there had been an accident and the kids had drowned. But where were the skid marks? Where was the evidence of a crash?

"We felt the story she was telling us wasn't factual," Williams said.

Investigators pressed her and she became distraught. Finally, a female deputy spoke to her one mother to another, and Duley admitted to killing her kids, Williams said.

Devean C. Duley, 2, appeared to have put up a fight in Room 31. He had defensive wounds indicative of a struggle, Orangeburg County Coroner Samuetta Marshall said. The boys died Sunday night, she said. The other dead child is Ja'van Duley, who was 18 months old.

When the truth came out Tuesday, residents were stunned, angry and searching for answers.

"She needs to be hanged," said Renuka Patel, manager of Trumps Inn, the motel where the children were killed.

Shaquan Duley checked into the motel about 1:30 a.m. Sunday but had no car and there were no children with her. She paid with a $100 bill. On Monday morning, police showed up at the hotel, Patel said.

"It is a horrible thing. She killed those babies in my room? How could she do that?" Patel said.

Pernell Hughes, who works at the motel, said she also didn't see a car or the children when Duley checked in. She wondered if somebody else was involved somehow.

"Those were babies. They barely started walking. I wonder what she's doing with big money like that when she can't afford those children," Hughes said.

Duley, 29, was unemployed and lived with her mother on Hammock Street. She also has a 5-year-old daughter who was with her grandmother on Tuesday, Williams said.

Helene Duley declined to talk with reporters when approached at her house.

Williams said Shaquan Duley and her mother would argue about Duley being a better parent. The day before the killings, Duley and her mother had a fight about the issue, Williams said.

Duley was "basically a good mom" who was unable to support her children financially. "This was a young lady who was in trouble. She didn't know where to turn for help. Her weakest moment resulted in the deaths of her children," Williams said.

After she suffocated the children, Duley was driving around with them in the car before it wound up submerged at a boat landing at Shillings Bridge Road, officials said. Duley flagged down a motorist who alerted the Highway Patrol at 6:15 a.m. Monday. Divers broke a window and removed the children.

"She should have called somebody, I would have been willing to take them," Kevin Felder, Helene Duley's cousin, said of Shaquan.

Investigators had yet to locate the father as of Tuesday, but they don't believe he has any connection to the children's deaths.

Duley is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon. She has no criminal history or psychiatric history, Williams said.

Sherlean Edwards, who said she knows the family, described Duley as a nice young lady.

"I am totally shocked," Edwards said. "The family seemed to be a real nice family. I don't know what happened."

Renee Bowers is a single mom with four kids ages 1, 2, 3 and 4 who lives in Helene Duley's neighborhood. She said that as a single mother she couldn't see herself getting frustrated enough to do anything like what Duley admitted to having done. She also noted that Duley had her mother living in the house with her as support.

"It hurts. It's scary. She had a mother. She had help," Bowers said.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.