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The children's mother, Mandy Hayes, told WTOL-TV in Toledo that her mom was her best friend and she was close to her brother.
The children, their 54-year-old grandmother Sandy Ford, and their 32-year-old uncle Andy Ford, died of carbon monoxide poisoning, a coroner ruled Wednesday in a finding that confirmed what investigators already suspected.
"I don't know what happened," Hayes said in an emotional interview. "They weren't in their right minds. That's all I can say. Something snapped, where it just I don't know. I can't explain it, really."
Hayes' husband, Chris, drew a different conclusion.
"I think she really did not want those kids to ever come home, is what the deal was there," he said of the grandmother in the WTOL interview. "She felt that she was their mother."
Investigators and family friends say the murder-suicide appears to stem from a family disagreement over where the children should live.
For the past three years, the children ages 10, 7, and 5, lived with their grandmother. Mandy Hayes asked her mother to care for them after another son at home had behavior problems and was becoming disruptive, according to children services workers.
But within the past week, the children moved back into their parents' home, angering the grandmother who believed the youngsters would be better off with her, according to child welfare workers.
Police were called to intervene twice last week, but they said they saw no signs the children were in danger.
On Monday morning, Sandy Ford picked up the children from school not long after their mother dropped them off, and the grandmother took them back to her home, police said.
Mandy Hayes said when the school called to tell her the kids were not there, she called police.
"I figured it was my mom that had snatched them," she said. She kept calling her mom but she never answered.
Chris Hayes said he also knew the grandmother was involved once he learned the children were not at the school.
"I told my wife to keep calling the police, telling them look, find out what car they're in, if they're going anywhere get an Amber Alert, something," he said.
Authorities were called to the home by the children's frantic grandfather after he discovered the letters and was unable to force open the garage door.
Firefighters using a sledgehammer broke down the garage door to find the bodies of 5-year-old Madalyn Hayes, 7-year-old Logan Hayes and 10-year-old Paige Hayes slumped inside the car along with their grandmother and uncle. Two hoses attached to the exhaust of a pickup truck pumped gas fumes through the car's rear window.
A funeral for the children is set for Monday in Toledo with visitation scheduled for this weekend.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.