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Case Slain Toddlers Unfold in Texas

May 3, 1999 GMT

It took Texas authorities two days to identify the little bodies found April 19 by a couple out for a walk. Dead just a few hours, the girl and boy lay in 6 inches of creekbed water.

No one had reported two children missing.

Workers at an Austin daycare center recognized them from a police artist’s drawings: 3-year-old Amanda Lee Miller and 2-year-old Dominick Logan Cornelius.

It took much longer to find the toddlers’ mother. After more than a week, authorities traced Tina Marie Cornelius to an apartment in Corpus Christi, nearly 200 miles away from where her two children were found in Brushy Creek south of Hutto.

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On Thursday, as Amanda and Dominick were buried, their mother was arrested and charged with felony child abandonment.

According to the arrest warrant, she told detectives ``that she left the children in the creekbed or ditch and thought they were alive when she left.″

``She indicated she did not go back to help them,″ the warrant says.

No one has yet been charged with killing the children.

Investigators say Amanda died of suffocation and Dominick died from a cracked skull. They had been missing five days before being found.

The children have different fathers who live out of state, said Tom Vinger of the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said the fathers didn’t figure into the probe.

Ms. Cornelius, a topless dancer, had dropped from sight at the Austin club where she had worked for about three weeks. ``She said she was going away and was going to leave her kids with some friends for the weekend,″ one dancer said on the condition of anonymity.

Authorities were tight-lipped about their investigation, including whether they think Ms. Cornelius had a role in the slayings.

``This is a serious crime, and it needs to be thoroughly investigated, so that if any additional charges are filed, that they will stand up in court,″ said Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson. ``There is no time now to be rushing into judgment or making snap decisions.″

Ms. Cornelius remains in the Williamson County jail on $200,000 bond. If convicted of the endangerment charges, she could get up to 20 years in prison for each charge.

The county grand jury is scheduled to review the case May 18.

About 70 relatives, family friends and daycare workers attended Thursday’s funeral in Austin of the two children. Ms. Cornelius’ mother had delayed the funeral while her daughter was missing, hoping she would appear and attend the service.

``Amanda and Dominick deserve to have their mommy there _ you deserve to be there,″ said Jean Slater of Cedar Park, an Austin suburb. Ms. Cornelius remained in jail during the funeral.

The funeral home was decorated with the children’s artwork and photos of them splashing in a pool and tearing open Christmas presents. A choir sang ``Jesus Loves Me″ and ``Mr. Golden Sun,″ two of the children’s favorites.

The bodies lay in identical white coffins covered with pale roses and baby’s breath. ``We must remember them as they were,″ said the Rev. Phil Ware, ``alive and vibrant and full of joy.″