Three children found abandoned in a Texas apartment along with the skeletal remains of a 9-year-old boy believed to be their brother had been surviving in part thanks to a neighbor who brought them food and charged their cellphone after the home’s power was recently cut off, a spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to The Daily Beast.
The unidentified resident of the CityParc II complex in the Houston suburbs had been helping the kids, ages 7, 10, and 15, for at least the past couple of weeks, cops said. The 15-year-old boy said his parents left him and the others alone in the home several months ago and hadn’t lived there since, said police.
The children had been living for a year or more with their brother’s dead body, which was lying out in the open when officers arrived. Deputies said the two younger boys “appeared malnourished and showed signs of physical injury,” according to an announcement issued by law enforcement authorities.
“It appears they were basically fending for each other,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters. “The older sibling was doing the best he could to take care of the others.”
Residents of the development, which is located about 20 miles from downtown Houston, were astonished that the horrifying situation could have gone on for so long without anyone noticing.
“If an adult was bringing them food to eat, they must have seen that child,” one of them told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal.
The neighbor, who has lived in CityParc II for the past 15 years, said maintenance staff over the past week or two had been “coming around to all the apartments to see if they needed to be repaired.” She wonders how no one noticed a moldering corpse in the unit during the workers’ rounds.
“I’m concerned nobody smelt nothing,” she said, adding that if she had the money, she’d move out immediately. “Something’s not adding right. Something ain’t right.”
However, another neighbor, who also did not want to be named, told local ABC affiliate KTRK that the smell coming from the apartment was so bad, she wouldn’t run her air conditioner because it carried the foul stench into her living space. The neighbor, who moved into the complex about 18 months ago, said she complained to building management more than once, but no action was ever taken.
Another CityParc II resident, Isaac Ford, also said he couldn’t fathom how the situation stayed under wraps for as long as it did. Ford, 54, said he saw the children’s mother around once in a while but didn’t even realize she had kids.
“It’s just so strange how a whole body could be in a house for a whole year with nobody coming in or out and seeing it,” Ford told The Daily Beast.
Others had questions about whether the kids in the home attended school, and if so, why their teachers didn’t realize something was very wrong. Craig Eichhorn, a spokesman for the Alief Independent School District, which covers the family’s geographical area, said he had no idea about the identities of the children because they have not yet been named by police.
“Out of 41,000 students, we just can’t guess who they might have been,” Eichhorn told The Daily Beast. “I have walked that complex—every now and then we do a dropout recovery walk, and that complex is huge. So the chances are that there are several hundred students in that complex.”
Cops were called to the location on Sunday afternoon by the 15-year-old, who informed them that his younger brother had been dead for a year and the body was in the room next to his, according to police. When officers arrived, the teen said his parents hadn’t been living there for months. The three surviving children were taken to the hospital to be assessed and treated. The medical examiner is conducting an autopsy on the fourth child to determine a cause of death.
State child welfare authorities said they have opened an investigation alongside the one being carried out by law enforcement.
“To ensure the safety of the children, the Department of Family and Protective Services is seeking emergency custody of the three boys,” the agency said in a statement Monday. “Child Protective Services does have history with the family, but there was no active CPS investigation at the time the children were discovered alone in their apartment.”
Police have not released the name of the mother or her boyfriend but announced Monday morning that they had located and interviewed the pair, who were subsequently released. Harris County authorities did not elaborate or explain why the two were set free without being charged.
Gonzalez, the Harris County sheriff, told the media that his department is working diligently to solve the tragic case.
“These kids deserve answers,” said Gonzalez, “and the public should never tolerate anything like this.”