by: The Associated Press Updated:
LEXINGTON, S.C. - A South Carolina father is accused of killing his five young children.
Authorities said he wrapped their bodies in garbage bags, then drove 400 miles away and dumped their bodies on a dirt road.
Investigators are bringing Timothy Jones Jr. back to Columbia, South Carolina, to face murder charges.
The children range from age 8 to as young as a 1 year old.
Photos of 5 SC children found dead
Jones' estranged wife first reported them missing last week in Lexington County.
On Tuesday, Jones led investigators to their bodies in Wilcox County, Alabama -- more than 400 miles away.
The Lexington County sheriff said it’s one of the most difficult cases they have ever handled.
Authorities spent most of the day Thursday questioning neighbors of Jones’ estranged wife about the case.
“I made a promise to these children's mother that I would bring these children home and I was not going to go back on that promise,” said Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty.
The children's mother, Jones' ex-wife, is in shock and distraught, McCarty said.
"I'm sure everybody wants to know the answers," Jones' father, Timothy Jones Sr., told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Amory, Mississippi. "It's just a terrible tragedy."
"They were wonderful. They were happy," Jones' stepmother, Julie Jones said of the five children as she cried. "They were wonderful, beautiful."
RAW VIDEO: Sheriff speaks after 5 SC children killed
McCarty called it one of the most heart-breaking cases of his career.
“He traveled three states with these children in garbage bags in the back of his vehicle,” McCarty said. “I don’t think that there is a person in this room that could speak to the mother of these children and not become emotional.”
Detectives released a timeline in the case:
- Aug. 28: Authorities said Jones picked up his five children from school in Lexington.
- Aug. 29: The children failed to show up in school.
- Sept. 3: Jones ex-wife reported them missing.
- Sept 6: Jones was detained in Mississippi. Officers found drugs, blood and children's clothes, but no children. Jones was arrested.
- Sept. 9: Detectives said he led them to a rural road in Alabama where the bodies of five children were found in garbage bags.
“I'm a father and a grandfather and in all of my years I’ve never seen a case like this,” said McCarty.
State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said authorities did not issue an Amber Alert because the case didn't meet the criteria because Jones had legal custody of his children.
On Wednesday, food and other garbage were piled up outside Jones' mobile home south of Lexington. The yard was overgrown, with broken toys strewn about.
A sign on font door said, "Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out" with a photo of a gun.
Sheriff's officials hope to extradite Jones to Lexington County Wednesday evening or Thursday.
An autopsy will determine exactly how the children died.
IMAGES of Search: 5 SC children found dead in Alabama; father detained
A neighbor of the estranged wife told Channel 9 about her memories of the children..
Gov. Nikki Haley cancelled a campaign fundraiser following the tragedy.
Haley was supposed to travel to New York for a fundraiser.
Tuesday’s discovery is the second tragedy for South Carolina this week.
A Charleston County deputy was shot and killed, and another deputy hurt when responding to call Monday night.
Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com:
Sheriff: SC father killed 5 children, wrapped bodies in plastic bags
No arrests made after man shot to death inside west Charlotte bar
Police ram suspect's car after hour-long chase in Gastonia
Lake goers warned about dangers of electric shock drowning
Trump doesn't hold Ramadan dinner, breaking White House tradition