On the evening of Nov. 20, 2017, LaFountain called authorities for help at her home on the Fort Wainwright military base in Fairbanks, Alaska, according to police records. Her 13-month-old had stopped breathing. LaFountain called her in-laws, telling them she'd been trying CPR. She called her husband, who was away on deployment. He rushed home while their baby girl was flown to the hospital. She died four days later.
The autopsy revealed that the baby had been healthy — no diseases, no injuries, no genetic abnormalities, police records state. She died from lack of oxygen.
As police considered the facts of the child's death, something caught their attention and ultimately spurred a hushed investigation: It wasn't the first time LaFountain had lost a child this way.
LaFountain, 23, who says she has changed back to her maiden name, Bilecki, was indicted Aug. 29 in the deaths of her two infant daughters, two years apart. She has been charged with murder in the first and second degree in both cases. She was arrested Aug. 30 and is being held at Fairbanks Correctional Center on $2 million bail. The maximum sentence for first-degree murder in Alaska is 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
When LaFountain's 4-month-old died Sept. 15, 2015, police thought it was an accident, an isolated tragedy. As she did with the 13-month-old, LaFountain called emergency responders and said the baby had stopped breathing. She also called family members. The infant, whose father was from a previous relationship, died later that day. The cause of death was undetermined, according to police records, but the body showed signs of suffocation.
The commonalities in the children's deaths, and the short time separating them, were part of what led investigators to believe they had been murdered, Fairbanks Police spokeswoman Yumi McCulloch said.
"First it was just pulling up her name in the system and saying, 'Look at that, there was another one,'" McCulloch said. "And then in both circumstances, she called saying the child wasn't breathing, she called the family."
An attorney for LaFountain could not be immediately located.
At a news conference Aug. 30, Fairbanks Police Chief Eric Jewkes questioned what true justice might look like after such "an unimaginable tragedy."
Police Chief Eric Jewkes will be speaking regarding the arrest of Stephany LaFountain for the murders of her two daughters.Posted by Fairbanks Police Department on Thursday, August 30, 2018
"We have two babies that were killed by their mother. How do we even imagine that," Jewkes said. "There's just nothing we can do to make this right."
He praised detectives who he said spent thousands of hours investigating the case in a five-person department that handled several other homicides in the course of the investigation. Because of its sensitivity, the case was kept quiet, Jewkes said. He thanked the families of the dead infants who had to mourn in secret during the nine-month investigation, and said he hoped police could find a way to bring them closure.
"We have a family of a baby that has suffered in obscurity, in silence,” Jewkes said. "They were all alone."
Investigators are not ready to release any information about LaFountain's possible motives or other details of the investigation, McCulloch said. They also have not specified how they ascertained that LaFountain had conducted the Internet searches for suffocation and murder.
According to her LinkedIn page, LaFountain had been working in the deli department at a Fred Meyer grocery store since 2011. She was divorced in February, according to online court records, and has no other children. Detectives do not think her ex-husband, the soldier and father of the 13-month-old, had any prior knowledge of the crime. He is considered a victim in the case, according to reporting from NBC News.
When LaFountain appeared over CCTV at the jail for her Aug. 31 arraignment, according to reporting from the Daily News Miner, she was wearing an anti-suicide smock.