ON THE morning of March 18, Leslie deVeau got up, drove a carpool of children to an early morning swim lesson, returned to her red brick home in Friendship Heights and shot her sleeping 10-year-old daughter Erin to death.

Then the 38-year-old Washington housewife turned her husband's 12-gauge shotgun on herself. Later that day, after concerned friends could not reach her, a neighbor couple with a key went to the house, unlocked the front door and found Leslie deVeau lying in her bedroom on a blood-soaked mattress, a gunshot wound to the left shoulder.

"I shot Erin," she told the woman. A few minutes later she asked the man for a cigarette.

The killing made the evening news. The neighborhood was shattered. They said the deVeaus, whose moneyed backgrounds assured them a place in Washington's social register, "The Green Book," seemed to be the perfect family: Leslie deVeau, a devoted mother; Erin, a lovely, adorable child, and Tony, an involved, loving father. One neighbor described them as "The Brady Bunch."

Now, Leslie deVeau sits in the Washington Hospital Center's psychiatric ward charged with second-degree murder. Her left arm has been amputated.

Tony deVeau--who some believe did not pay enough attention to his wife's mental illness--is trying to rent their house, the bedroom walls scrubbed clean of bloodstains by friends. He has not seen or spoken with his wife.

The fashionable neighborhood is angry. And guilty. Some knew Leslie deVeau suffered from depression. We should have done something, they say. Their children are obsessed by the tragedy. Some are having trouble sleeping. One won't leave his mother's side. Another recoiled from her mother's hug. "Not now," the little girl said. And more than one child wanted to know, "Are you going to do that to me, Mommy?"

Some of the mothers with children in Erin deVeau's fourth-grade class at Janney Elementary School in Northwest Washington heard the news on the radio. Others saw it on television that night. Gretchen Popp's children were home alone next door when a policeman knocked and asked to use the telephone. In muffled tones, the officer called in details of the crime to headquarters. Popp's two children heard the word "homicide." When the policeman left, the children got out the dictionary. They hadn't known what the word meant.

One neighbor said she gathered her children together and told them that night. "What they understand is that Mrs. deVeau went berserk. That's the only explanation you can accept."

One by one, the neighborhood children learned of the killing. "We told him outright," the mother of a 10-year-old boy says. "We said, 'Something terrible has happened to Erin. Her mother shot her.' He got very upset. The first thing he said was, 'You're not going to do this to me, are you?' He was very frightened, he was shaking."

Now her son has trouble sleeping. "He's having a hard time reconciling how a mom could do this. He talks about it a lot. He's very skittish."

Another classmate, Stephanie Craft, heard the news from her mother. According to Adrienne Craft, her daughter became upset, so she began to stroke the child's back. The 10-year-old pulled away. "There was a feeling of 'don't touch me,' " Adrienne Craft recalls. "I don't think you can ever reassure a child that it won't happen to them."

Sandy Linden's two children reacted very differently. "One will not leave me alone. He's afraid to be in the house alone. We've tried to make him feel more secure. The other one won't talk about it. She won't even look at the house when we drive by."

The parents are united by a common bond--the effort to rebuild the shattered image of a mother as protector. "You've destroyed something," says Sandy Linden. "The mother is the one safe person in your life."

The women are concerned about using the word "depressed." "We're going to have to think of a new word to use," says Adrienne Craft. Other mothers say disciplining their children will be a problem for a while. They will be careful not to use the once-innocent threats to "wring their necks" or "murder" them.

The morning after Erin deVeau's death, children and parents gathered at the Janney School. According to the parents, the teachers wanted the children to talk about it. One Janney teacher took a few of her students aside. She knew the children's parents were in therapy. She tried to reassure them that just because someone was in therapy didn't mean that person would kill their child.

Several days later, the school invited the parents to a meeting with clinical psychologist Dr. May Leisinger, who is assigned to the school.

"People showed up crying. It was very overpowering," says Leisinger. "Most of the parents were saying, 'How could this have happened?' Some people knew she was depressed. The question many of the children were asking was, 'Could you do this to me? The question the mothers asked was, 'Am I capable of this?' I said, 'Yes, we're all capable of this. However, the chances of it happening are minuscule.' "

Among the people who know Leslie deVeau, Leisinger says, "The guilt is enormous. I tried to reassure them that they did what they could."

The guilt was accompanied by anger, Leisinger says. "They were saying, 'How could you do this to us? To upset our peace and calm.' "

The school decided to conduct a second meeting for the parents and invited Adrienne Craft and her husband Tom, both clinical psychologists, to conduct the session.

"It was a very emotional meeting," says Adrienne Craft. "They felt they should have done something. There was guilt. Not having done something to prevent it. Not having saved Leslie from herself."

"I don't think they should feel guilty," says Gretchen Popp, Leslie deVeau's next-door neighbor for the past 12 years. "They tried. She needed treatment and she didn't get it. I don't know why."

Another neighbor and friend agrees. "I don't feel guilty," she says. "I feel useless. But Leslie didn't open up a lot. Leslie didn't pour her guts out."

Speculation on what drove Leslie deVeau to the desperate act of killing her child is on the lips of every neighbor and friend. What is so difficult to accept, they say, is the ambiguity. "People have a great need to tie this all up," says Sandy Linden. "We want to know why."

It is if their lives have been put on hold waiting for the answer--as if it would make sense if they knew the details, knew what had happened that tragic morning.

Mary Dorian wasn't able to sleep for the first week after it happened. She was obsessed by the killing, she says. "I kept envisioning what went on in the house." Dorian shakes her head. "She had money, a nice house, she was good-looking, fun to be with, had a world of friends . . ."

Another neighbor and friend says, "I feel badly that we closed our eyes to it or we thought she'd snap out of it. You're always reluctant to nose into other people's business . . .

"You just don't hear of this happening to upper-middle-class people," she says. "It was a shattering of our innocence. Violence just doesn't touch our lives. Our husbands all knocked themselves out to stay out of Vietnam. We're all modern mothers, trying to do it all. Trying to have kids, trying to work, trying to keep a nice house. Washington is a fast track. Women get a lot of pressure here. I don't know whether that had anything to do with what happened to her. I do know an awful lot of women who are trying to do too much. Something's got to give."

Sandy Linden says if anything good comes of this, "People should not feel there's a stigma attached to seeking psychiatric help. It would have been so much better had she not been embarrassed by it."

Irene Lockwood, Leslie's mother, thinks she knows what happened. "It was an act of love, believe me. The truth is, they both loved the child very, very much and the stress was too much. It's just a stressful world. She just couldn't bear to leave her."

Leslie deVeau killed her daughter for one reason, her mother says. "She wanted to be sure Erin was with her."

The Perfect Family

Leslie Ann Lockwood and Anthony Harold deVeau were students at George Washington University when they met on a blind date in 1962. Leslie had recently transferred from a small junior college in Delaware after her father became ill. He had been hospitalized for depression, she later told friends.

Tony and Leslie were married on Oct. 21, 1967, at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Washington. They honeymooned in the Caribbean. That year, Leslie went to work for the Montgomery County Department of Social Services, employed as a foster care worker.

In 1969, the couple moved to the house in Friendship Heights. The neighborhood is a cluster of tasteful homes on quiet, tree-shaded streets, where children pedal shiny bikes, and dogs run unleashed on the wide concrete sidewalks. It is a suburban enclave within the city limits, where young housewives can walk to Neiman-Marcus and talk over cups of coffee on screened-in porches, where husbands spend Saturdays waxing cars and pruning shrubs and organizing Fourth of July picnics, where azaleas bloom in late April and roses in June, and where outdoor Christmas lights in December signal the safe, secure upper-middle-class lives within. It is the sort of neighborhood where having one's name appear in the newspaper is considered, in the words of one resident, "lower class."

The deVeaus were a popular couple. Blond and athletic, they liked tennis and camping and went out of their way to make new friends. Gretchen Popp, a divorced mother of three, lived next door. She became friends with Leslie deVeau after the couple's daughter, Erin, was born in 1972.

"She Leslie was cute and very articulate and very intelligent. She had a lot of charm, a very sweet manner," says Popp.

Tony deVeau wanted more children. But after three miscarriages, Leslie deVeau told friends she was frightened of becoming pregnant again. "She told me once, 'Maybe the reason I had them miscarriages is because subconsciously I didn't want any more babies,' " Gretchen Popp recalls.

Leslie deVeau had left her full-time job when her child was born, doing contract weekend work for the county, handling child abuse cases.

"She saw some very grim situations," says one neighbor and friend who asked to remain unidentified. "It affected her very badly."

When Erin was 3, Leslie decided to go back to school. She received a master's degree in social work from Catholic University in 1976. In November 1977, she was hired by the Prince George's County Department of Social Services and worked with geriatric patients. She left the job on June 14, 1978, because of her growing bout with depression, according to friends.

"She had feelings of uselessness," says one neighbor, who asked to remain unidentified. "She often said she couldn't do anything right."

Meanwhile, Erin deVeau had blossomed into a gifted child. Towheaded and tomboyish, the little girl was a favorite among children and parents alike. And Leslie deVeau, on the surface at least, appeared to be a perfect mother despite her depression. "I always admired that relationship," says one neighbor. "I always thought she was a wonderful mother because she let Erin have stuff. I wished I could be that way."

The other children were envious. Erin deVeau gets to have pancakes, they told their mothers. Erin deVeau gets to eat Froot Loops. Erin deVeau just got cable television's Home Box Office. And Erin deVeau's mother let her dog have puppies twice. "The kids thought she Erin was really lucky," says Sandy Linden. "She had everything she wanted."

Tony deVeau was admired for his involvement with neighborhood children and events. "He was the kind of father who showed up at his daughter's gymnastic exhibitions in the middle of the day," Linden recalls.

But the perfect family started coming apart.

In December 1978, Leslie deVeau went to work as an aide for a local church nursery school at the urging of her friend Mary Dorian, the school supervisor. But after four months, increasing depression forced Leslie deVeau to leave. "When she was well, she was fine," says Dorian. "But then she began to be more and more withdrawn. She was very quiet. If a kid got his jacket caught on a swing, or two children were having a confrontation she would look in the direction, but not take the normal reaction, not do anything about it."

Dorian recalls that one day a 2-year-old child ran outside the school gate and up a steep hill. "Anyone else would have shot out like lightning, but Leslie just stood there, not really aware."

Although the two women were close friends, Leslie deVeau would leave in the afternoons without saying goodbye. "It hurt my feelings," Dorian says. "So one day I said, 'Leslie, I need to come by and see you,' and she said, 'Okay, come by for coffee.' When I got there I said, 'I would like to know what's going on.' She was my aide. I said, 'Is it something I've done?' She said, 'No, it's nothing like that. It's just something I have to deal with myself.' "

It was in the spring of 1979, Gretchen Popp recalls, that the nature of Leslie deVeau's problem seemed to suggest something more serious than depression. "She went totally zonkers," Popp recalls. According to Popp, deVeau appeared to be suffering from hallucinations. "She thought PEPCO had her house bugged," says Popp. "She was paranoid."

"It got to be where she was really not communicating with anyone," recalls Mary Dorian. "That's the summer she went into the hospital."

According to one source, it was around this time that she first attempted suicide.

'Her Problem Was Life'

Leslie deVeau was hospitalized at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington for approximately one month, according to her husband.

Gretchen Popp recalls that she helped care for Erin deVeau for two weeks before Tony "ever mentioned where she Leslie was. By that time, of course, I already knew. I think he Tony was embarrassed by it. He pretended as though nothing was wrong."

When Leslie came home from the hospital, friends and neighbors noticed a remarkable change. "She lost weight, she got all new curtains for her house," says Popp. DeVeau told friends she was on medication, but never said what she was taking. "Whatever it was, it worked marvelously," says Sandy Linden.

But Mary Dorian was concerned about her friend. "I would ask her to tell me what went on at the hospital . She said, 'I wish more people would ask me. I wish more people would talk about it.' "

Gretchen Popp recalls that deVeau once remarked that "the strongest woman in my group therapy committed suicide."

But sometime after that, deVeau told friends she had stopped taking her medication and had stopped seeing her psychiatrist.

Mary Dorian recalls that Tony deVeau, a senior vice president with Continental Federal Savings & Loan Association in Fairfax, appeared to be less than supportive of his wife. Tony seemed "not really willing to accept the fact that Leslie was sick," Dorian says. "To my way of thinking, he just wasn't going to see it."

But Tony deVeau says he tried to get his wife to see her psychiatrist. "I think she got mad at him or something," he recalls. "I'd try to talk to her, to help her out. Try to get her to see the doctor. She had been getting help. It stopped."

As for the nature of his wife's illness, Tony deVeau says, "I think her problem was life. I tried to help her . Life is not bad. There are ups and downs. Everybody copes and gets along."

But Leslie deVeau couldn't.

Last spring, the housewife confided in Gretchen Popp. She said she was beginning to change, and that her family couldn't accept it. "She told me she wanted a divorce," Popp says. "She said she went to talk to a lawyer. But she was afraid to lose Erin. She thought that if she separated in small stages, it would be better. She told me she had decided to stop going out with Tony socially."

Gretchen Popp says Leslie told her Tony opposed the divorce. She said, according to Popp, that Tony would "take Erin, the car, everything." Popp adds, "I think it was losing Erin that really frightened her."

Tony deVeau denies that his wife asked for a divorce. "I wouldn't say there were no problems," he says. "Everybody has problems. I think when you have a person in her condition, you'd have disagreements."

One of the arguments, according to Gretchen Popp, was over Tony deVeau's shotgun, which he kept in the house. DeVeau, who enjoys duck hunting on the Eastern Shore, says he doesn't recall the argument. Popp says, "I was in their house a year ago. There was an argument over the gun. She told him to get the gun out of the house . He refused. She said, 'We don't need it.' He just totally ignored her. I couldn't believe it."

Gretchen Popp also learned that Leslie deVeau had attempted suicide for the second time in two years by running her car off the road. Tony deVeau declined to comment, saying it might jeopardize his wife's case.

Gretchen Popp recalls that Leslie deVeau talked of suicide. "She thought of herself as unattractive, sexually unattractive," says Popp. "She would allude to suicide . She'd say, 'Today's a good day to commit suicide.' "

Popp also recalls that "Erin appeared to be depressed because of the home situation." Popp observed that Tony deVeau often left the house early in the morning and did not come home until late at night. He was also usually gone on the weekends, according to Popp.

Mary Dorian says Erin deVeau would go out sometimes and sit in the car when her mother was depressed. "I'm sure Erin knew," says Dorian, although Tony deVeau says he tried to shield his daughter from her mother's illness.

Erin deVeau wrote a short story for "The Janney Jaguar," the school's literary magazine, which appeared in October 1981. The story, which some parents say eerily foreshadowed the child's own violent death, is titled, "The Thing in the Woods." It tells of a young husband and wife who buy a haunted house, one "that every tenant who lived in it died before the lease was up." The couple then buys a horse. The wife rides off into the woods. "She started to breathe very hard. She hyperventilated," Erin deVeau wrote. After a few hours, the husband began looking for his wife. He called the police, and described the woman as 5 feet 6, weighing 110 pounds, blond hair and blue eyes, a near-perfect description of Leslie deVeau. The story ends when the wife is found dead. "She had been killed by a thing which left deep claw marks on her face," the child wrote. "There were globs of flesh hanging out. It was a gruesome death."

My Father, Myself

During the summer of 1981, Leslie deVeau grew more and more aloof. "She asked me once or twice, 'Do you think I'm okay?' " Sandy Linden recalls. "She said she was going through some changes. Trying to find herself. You know, the typical 35-year-old thing everybody seems to talk about."

But Leslie deVeau had reason to be afraid. "She was always worried that she'd wind up like her dad. He had been in an institution," says Linden.

Last June, Sandy Linden recalls running into Leslie deVeau at a gymnastics meet at Janney. "I thought she was slipping back into depression . I gave her a ride home and she didn't speak. I could pretty much tell when she was depressed. Her whole personality changed. It was very obvious."

It was also obvious to Gretchen Popp. Often, when her neighbor became depressed, "she would pull all the blinds down," Popp says. Then, she would walk outside in her back yard, almost in a trance. "That really spooked me. She'd just stare into the sky. It was like her mind was gone, and something else was in there."

Last fall, neighbors and friends were pleasantly surprised when Leslie deVeau gave her husband a 40th birthday party at the house. "I think she did it to say, 'Look what I can do,' " Gretchen Popp says. Her friends noticed, however, that the hostess was quiet and withdrawn at the party.

At least two of Leslie's friends spoke to Tony deVeau about his wife's condition. But Sandy Linden says she never heard Tony talk about it openly. "That was his way of handling it."

During January and February, the depression became more and more obvious. "I knew Les was in trouble," says one friend. "She'd be down one day, and two days later be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She did comment that life was very hard. She often said she couldn't do anything right."

She gave Erin a birthday party. It was a slumber party. Stephanie Craft later told her mother that Mrs. deVeau was very quiet that night.

"She thought she was worthless," says Gretchen Popp, who called another friend of Leslie's and said, "We've got to do something."

In late February, Mary Dorian and Leslie deVeau went to see "Chariots of Fire" together. That night Dorian lent her friend a book on musicals. Several days later, the book was returned. "I asked if she read the book. She said she tried to but couldn't concentrate. So I knew she was beginning to get bad again."

The first week in March, the two women played tennis together. Dorian said that her husband--who travels frequently--was out of town. "Leslie said, 'Life is really the pits.' It was kind of a joke, the way we usually joke about that sort of stuff. I knew that something was going on, though, because she had been slowing down a bit more and more."

But Dorian says she was reluctant to press her friend to seek help. "You didn't want to intrude on her privacy. You didn't want to increase her anxiety or depression."

"What could you really do?" asks Sandy Linden. "You could listen to her. Some people talked to Tony. But what else can you do? There has to be a line that you draw." That line, where friendship ends and prying begins, is a social barrier many of the upper-middle-class friends and neighbors of Leslie deVeau's were reluctant to cross.

Two days before the killing, Gretchen Popp came home from work early. "It was a sunny day. Leslie was out in the front yard. Her face was all swollen and broken out . . . Her eyes were all puffy. She said, 'Your hair looks so pretty.' "

That night, Leslie deVeau played bridge with a neighbor. "She was very subdued," according to the friend. "She seemed down, but not as low as I've seen her before. I wasn't alarmed. I felt sorry for her."

Tony deVeau recalls, "I knew she was beginning to get bad. It was a little down period. She was down a little bit."

In retrospect, Gretchen Popp says she is saddened by what happened, but not entirely taken by surprise. "I knew she was going to do it," Popp says now. "It occurred to me that maybe she'd take Erin with her, and that's what happened."

'I Loved Her'

Tony deVeau says Thursday morning, March 18, is a blur to him.

He remembers that Leslie got up and told him that Erin didn't want to go to swimming practice. Then, she got in her red Pontiac station wagon sometime around 6 a.m. and drove several children to the pool. One of the children remarked later that Mrs. deVeau was very quiet during the ride. Tony deVeau doesn't remember what time his wife returned to the house. He says he doesn't remember if he was home when she returned, or if he had already left for work.

The shotgun was kept under the bed. It was not loaded, Tony deVeau says. In fact, he says he wasn't aware that his wife knew how to use the gun.

But sometime between 7 and 8 a.m., according to the D.C. medical examiner's office, Erin deVeau was shot at close range, through the right posterior shoulder. The loaded shotgun was pressed against the blanket. She was lying on her side under the covers, still in her nightgown.

Sometime later, Leslie deVeau aimed the automatic shotgun apparently at her heart. But the blast tore a hole through her left shoulder. Later she would explain her abortive suicide attempt to a friend by saying, "The gun was too long."

Meanwhile, Mary Dorian had been trying to reach her friend on the phone. Since 2:30, the line had been busy. "I kept calling and calling," Dorian recalls. "The line was busy. I thought maybe she was taking a nap." Dorian and two other women who were scheduled to play tennis drove over to the deVeau house and knocked on the doors. Both front and back doors were locked. Daisy, the family's cocker spaniel, was inside barking. The women called again from the tennis courts. At 6:15, they returned to the house and tried the door again. They asked a neighbor who had a key to the deVeau house to go in and check.

"I called to Leslie," the neighbor says. "She told me to go away. I asked her where Erin was. She said, 'I shot Erin.' "

Leslie deVeau was lying in a pool of blood. "She was alert," the neighbor says. There were bloodstains on the walls where she had staggered after the gunshot wound.

The police were called. Then the news media arrived, setting up their lights and cameras on the well-manicured lawns. Neighbors gathered in knots on the street corner. Tony deVeau could not be found. He was playing tennis that night, he says.

At 10:20, unaware of what had happened, Tony deVeau arrived home. He looked at the cameras and said, "What's up, guys?" Then he took out his house keys and went to the front door. It was already open.

Leslie deVeau was taken to Washington Hospital Center. She told one of her neighbors that night in the hospital, "Here I go, dumping my ---- on you again." When her mother and sister arrived, she became hysterical. "I loved her," Leslie deVeau cried to her mother. "I loved her I loved her. Why didn't God want me?"

Aftermath

Classmates of Erin deVeau's held a bake sale and raised more than $100. They planted a cherry tree in Erin's memory on the Janney school grounds.

Friends have visited Leslie deVeau in the hospital. They say she looks wonderful, that she jokes about her lost arm, that her eyes well with tears when she mentions her daughter's name. Her defense is being handled by the Public Defender's Office, which is awaiting the outcome of a grand jury investigation. If indicted, she is expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Tony deVeau says he does not regret keeping the shotgun in the house. "If that's what she was going to do, how could that contribute to the accident ? It was something she used. If I felt she was in a very depressed state, I would have moved it."

He said his wife could have committed suicide by hanging herself with a rope or "slit her wrists." "If she had been very depressed, I'd get it out pretty quick. This was not the case."

He says he is "shattered" by the death of his daughter. He has not been able to bring himself to enter her bedroom. He doesn't know the details of what happpened, and says he never wants to know. "I'm not even sure she Leslie knows. I have some ideas why she did it . I can't tell you because it might affect the case."

He says he's taking life one day at a time now, staying with friends, returning to work. Does he still love his wife? "I don't know," he says. "I have mixed emotions right now." He has not decided whether to file for divorce. Nor has he sought any professional help.

"I can see psychiatrists are for some people," he says. "But I have friends. I talk to my friends. I think that's better than going to a psychiatrist."