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Colorado man who pleaded for return of missing wife and daughters arrested

Update Aug. 20:  Chris Watts, 33, was charged Monday with five counts of murder, one each for his wife and two daughters, and two counts for the murder of a victim under 12, according to CBS Denver.

Watts was also charged with one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body, 9 News reported.

Watts, who reportedly confessed to the murders.

According to an affidavit released Monday, Watts claimed Shanann Watts strangled the two children and he flew into a rage and strangled her, CBS Denver reported, then he removed the bodies of all three from the home, taking them to the property where he worked.

Original story: A Colorado man who for days pleaded publicly for the return of his pregnant wife and two young daughters has been arrested and charged with killing them, police said. 

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Christopher Lee Watts, 33, of Frederick, was arrested just after 11 p.m. Wednesday night in connection with the slayings of his wife, Shanann Watts, and their two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. Shanann Watts, 34, was about 15 weeks pregnant.

Bella Watts was days away from starting kindergarten. 

John Camper, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, said during a media briefing Thursday afternoon that investigators were “quite certain” the body of Shanann Watts has been recovered.

“We have strong reason to believe we know where the bodies of the children are, and recovery efforts are in process on that,” Camper said

“This is absolutely the worst possible outcome that any of us could imagine. I think our hearts are broken for the town of Fredrick as much as anybody’s.”

Chris Watts is being held in the Weld County Jail pending formal charges, Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said during the briefing. 9News in Denver reported earlier Thursday that Chris Watts faces three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.

>> Related story: Report: Man with NC ties confesses to killing wife, 2 daughters in Colorado

Fredrick police officials said they received a call just before 2 p.m. Monday reporting Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts missing. The report was made by a friend who went to the family’s home in the Wyndham Hill subdivision and found no sign of Shanann or the girls. 

Chris Watts said in an interview Tuesday with 9News that he saw the woman at the front door, via the home’s doorbell camera, and realized his family was missing. 

“I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I can’t get ahold of Shanann,’” Watts said. “That’s when I was just, like, ‘OK, something’s not right.’”

He said he, too, had been unable to reach his wife via phone or text message.

See Chris Watts’ entire interview with 9News below.

Shanann Watts’ vehicle, as well as her purse and medication for the children, were all still at the house, authorities said. Police on Tuesday upgraded the missing persons report to an “Endangered Missing Alert” because of the potential medical concerns with the children.  

Investigators conducted multiple interviews and officers canvassed the family’s neighborhood for witnesses and clues. News of the missing mother and daughters soon went national, and Watts did his interview with 9News on Tuesday, in which he described his family’s disappearance as “earth-shattering.” 

“I don’t feel like this is even real right now. It’s like a nightmare that I just can’t wake up from,” Watts told a reporter.

Watts spoke in loving terms of his daughters. 

“Celeste, she’s just a bottle of energy,” he said. “I call her ‘Rampage’ because she's got two speeds: go, or she’s sleeping. She’s always the troublemaker, she’s always the one, like, jumping off things. Bella, she’s the more calm, cautious, mothering type, and she’s more like me -- she’s more calm. Celeste has definitely got her mom’s personality, where she’s all gung-ho, ready to go.”

The young father also addressed those who might think he had a hand in his family’s disappearance.

“Everybody’s going to have their own opinion on anything like this,” Watts said. “I just want people to know that I want my family back. I want them safe and I want them here. This house is not the same.”

Less than 24 hours later, Watts was in custody. A law enforcement source told 9News that Watts confessed to killing his wife and children. 

No motive has been established, though The Denver Post reported the couple had serious financial problems over the years. They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in July 2015, citing liabilities of more than $400,000. 

The Wyndham Hill Master Association filed a civil claim against the couple last month, but details of that claim were not immediately available, according to the Post

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Shanann Watts wrote on social media about the trips and vacations she had earned for her family through Le-Vel, a health and wellness company that sells nutritional products. The Post reported that Watts’ position with the company appeared to have rejuvenated the family’s finances. 

“We have qualified for so many amazing trips in two years that we never otherwise would have been able to visit,” she wrote about trips to New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Diego, Toronto, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. 

Chris Watts worked for Anadarko Petroleum Co., according to bankruptcy records. 

Le-Vel officials wrote on Facebook Thursday morning that their hearts were broken for Shanann Watts and her daughters. 

“Shanann was an amazing woman, mother, friend, and overall person,” the statement read. “She lit up every room and was a joy to be around. Our love, prayers, and support go out during this devastating time to her family, friends, and to all Thrivers who had the great fortune of knowing Shanann and her two beautiful daughters.”

Shanann Watts’ brother, Frankie Rzucek, wrote that he just wants to know why his sister and nieces died. 

“My precious family, my one and only sibling, my sister Shanann, two adorable nieces, Bella and Celeste, and her soon-to-be-found-out unborn son, Niko,” Rzucek wrote. “I just want 30 seconds alone with that heartless psychopath. May Satan have mercy on his soul.”

Some of the more poignant social media posts come from the Facebook page of Shanann Watts herself. In a post that included a photo of one of her girls playing at the beach, the young mother wrote of her fears of letting her daughter out into the world. 

“The world is a scary place,” Shanann Watts wrote on Aug. 4, just over a week before their disappearances. “I will do everything in my power to teach her right and to protect her, advocate, stand up for her and defend her. I pray every day that she never feels any less than the rest of the world. I pray that she’s protected when I’m not around to protect her. 

“Nothing or no one will stop me.”

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