‘To the Bridge’: Inside the Amanda Stott-Smith case

Amanda Stott-Smith threw her 2 children off the Sellwood Bridge on May 23, 2009

Amanda Stott-Smith sheds a tear at her sentencing for throwing her children off the Sellwood Bridge in 2009, killing her son. Her daughter survived. April 22, 2010 (KOIN, file)
Amanda Stott-Smith sheds a tear at her sentencing for throwing her children off the Sellwood Bridge in 2009, killing her son. Her daughter survived. April 22, 2010 (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the middle of the night, May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith forced her young son and daughter off the Sellwood Bridge more than 70 feet into the dark, cold waters of the Willamette River. Witnesses said they heard screams not far from Oaks Park.

Trinity — 7 at the time — survived. Her 4-year-old brother Eldon did not.

About 18 months later, a Portland fire rescue boat was named in their honor, and on that day Trinity said, “I’m here to feel my brother’s love and I’m here to honor him because I miss him so much.”

Amanda Jo Stott-Smith enters a not guilty plea in the Justice Center in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, June 3, 2009. Amanda Jo Stott-Smith pleaded not guilty Wednesday to aggravated murder and attempted murder after her two children plunged off a bridge into a frigid Oregon river. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Brent Wojahn, Pool)
Amanda Jo Stott-Smith enters a not guilty plea in the Justice Center in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, June 3, 2009. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Brent Wojahn, Pool)

Amanda Stott-Smith pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder before a trial, and was sentenced in April 2010 to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years.

She apologized in court that day: “To all those I’ve hurt, especially my children, I’m deeply sorry.”

But her ex-husband, Jason Smith, also spoke in court and seemed to sum up the feelings of the community.

“No explanations for why it happened, no explanations for the thoughts of the murderer who killed my son will ever make sense to anybody,” he said.

‘Addictions, lies, money issues’

From the moment she learned of the crime, Portland-based author Nancy Rommelmann needed to know the life road Amanda Stott-Smith traveled to get herself and her children to the bridge that night.

Excerpts from “To The Bridge”

“I think we are better off at least having some idea of how this happens as opposed to saying ‘We’re never going to understand,'” Rommelmann told KOIN 6 News in October 2017. “I just don’t see how that helps anything, ever.”

Eight years ago, she began pouring through public records about the case. After Amanda pleaded guilty, people “ran out of the woodwork to speak with me,” she said. Over time she interviewed about 80 people — family members on both sides, friends and colleagues.

The result is a book, set for release in June 2018, called “To the Bridge.”

Asked if any of it makes sense to her now, Rommelmann said, “Yes. It does make sense to me now.”

“To say no one could have ever seen this coming, which many people said, is just not the case. I mean, you can’t say, ‘Oh, we knew 2 children were going to be thrown off the bridge,’ but they knew disaster was in the making, for sure.”

Rommelmann researched a troubled marriage and what she describes as years of bad behavior.

Amanda and Jason met around 2000 and in the next 9 years Rommelmann said “they were engaging in some not-so-good behavior at the time.”

“I think people felt, some people felt helpless to say anything. Some people didn’t think it was their business, and I think there was a lot of obfuscation going on, where it looks like this but you’re being told it’s that.”

Nancy Rommelmann, the author of "To The Bridge," in her Portland office, October 19, 2017 (KOIN)
Nancy Rommelmann, the author of “To The Bridge,” in her Portland office, October 19, 2017 (KOIN)

Rommelmann said it was “pretty shocking” to find out “how many horrible things had been going on for so long in what really looked like an upstanding, middle-class Christian family.”

She told KOIN 6 News the bad behavior included “addictions, there were lies, there were money issues.”

“I feel sad and sometimes angry that people just made such crappy choices, you know, selfish choices, choices driven by addiction, choices driven by fancy lies they could tell and convince others of. And the people that suffered were the children.”

She believes Amanda’s decision that night was, in part, an act of revenge against her then-estranged husband.

“She had lost a lot at that point. She’s lost custody of her children.”

But, she said, it’s more complicated than people realize.

The killing, Rommelmann said, was categorized in court and the press as a spousal revenge killing.

But there’s more to it than that.

“I think Amanda lived a trying life for a long time, but a life she was very much involved in trying to make look like what she wanted it to be,” Rommelmann said. “And it wasn’t.”

Their marriage was able to go on for while but the problems overtook them. “At a certain point I don’t think she had any place left to go in her mind.”

Nancy Rommelmann, the author of "To The Bridge," has her research files on the Amanda Stott-Smith case in her Portland office, October 19, 2017 (KOIN)
Nancy Rommelmann, the author of “To The Bridge,” has her research files on the Amanda Stott-Smith case in her Portland office, October 19, 2017 (KOIN)

Amanda “obviously” wanted to hurt Jason. “But what else did she have? At that point she had no home, she had no property, she had no money, she had no job.”

Asked if Amanda loved her children, Rommelmann hedged her answer.

“How Amanda felt about her children really depends on who you ask,” she said. “There will be people who tell you she loved her children deeply and that she was a wonderful mother, especially when the children were small. And, you know, she has an older son, Gavin. I also know that she was not such a wonderful mother to her children. You had social services called many times. You had many people see many moments of bad parenting (by both Amanda and Jason.”

As for whether she loved her children, Rommelmann said, “I guess it’s not really for me to say. I know they loved her.”

Maintaining their silence

Neither Amanda Stott-Smith nor Jason Smith would speak with Rommelmann for her book, and she knows there are those who feel she’s only making things worse.

“I know I was never here to cause people more pain. I know I was never here to sensationalize everything,” Rommelmann said. “The book is not sensational. I thought it would make things hurt less if we could understand how they happened.”

And if pulling truth from the horror helps prevent something like this from happening again, then her efforts will have been worthwhile, she said.

“When you take the information and lay it on the ground and look at it, you can put the pieces together. To me, it does make sense.”

Neither Amanda Stott-Smith nor Jason Smith have responded to requests for interviews with KOIN 6 News.

Amanda Stott-Smith in her May 2009 mug shot (Black-and-white version courtesy Nancy Rommelmann)