A child whose skeletal remains were found inside a Texas house of horrors along with three other abandoned children died by homicide, it has been revealed.
The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office announced on Tuesday that the child suffered homicidal violence with multiple blunt force injuries and the manner of death was ruled a homicide.
The cause of death is not yet known and authorities are yet to confirm the age and gender of the victim. It is also unclear when exactly the child died.
However, the victim is believed to be the nine-year-old brother of the three surviving children and died around one year ago.
His body was then left out in the open to decompose inside their apartment at 3530 Green Crest in Harris County.
The surviving children – who are aged 15, 10 and seven and are thought to be the brothers of the dead child – were living for what officials said was an “extended” period of time next to the corpse of their sibling.
The grim discovery came to light on Sunday when the 15-year-old boy called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to report that his nine-year-old brother had been dead for a year and his remains were lying in the room next to his.
The teen told authorities his parents had not been living with him and his two surviving siblings at the apartment for several months.
The desperate boy had texted his mother telling her he could no longer cope with the situation before alerting the authorities.
Deputies arriving on the scene found the three siblings living in “deplorable conditions” alongside the skeleton of the fourth child.
It emerged on Tuesday that the mother of the three children had been living with her boyfriend just 15 minutes away in Westchase after leaving her malnourished children to fend for themselves.
One neighbour told ABC13 she occasionally saw the mother drop some food off for her kids at the Harris County apartment complex while several neighbours have come forward to reveal they fed the teenage boy.
“[The mother] would come and park, and [the 15-year-old] would run down and grab noodles, drinks and chips and run back up,” said Erica Chapman.
The children’s mother and her boyfriend were questioned by homicide investigators with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) on Monday and released without charge.
However, HCSO told The Independent that “charges are pending”.
It is not clear if charges will be brought imminently now that the child’s death has been ruled a homicide.
The Independent has reached out to HCSO and the medical examiner’s office for further information.
Neither the mother, the boyfriend or the four children have yet been publicly named. It is not clear if the boyfriend is the father of any of the children.
A woman living close to the mother and boyfriend’s home told ABC13 she would often see the couple around after they moved in around January or February this year.
Tanieka said she had never seen any children with the couple or at the property in the roughly 10-month period.
“We see them come and go,” she said of the mother and boyfriend.
“We never saw any children. None.”
At the apartment complex where the children were found alone, multiple neighbours have come come forward to reveal they were giving the 15-year-old boy food but did not know there were two other children – or the human remains of a fourth – inside the home.
Ms Chapman said she started giving the teenager food herself around six months ago as she noticed the mother was rarely there.
She said she first saw the teen sleeping on a slide and knew something was wrong but didn’t know there were two other children also living in the apartment.
Ms Chapman said she believes the older brother had kept his siblings secret out of fear he would be “punished” by his parents.
The boy was also afraid to take cooked meals and only accepted packaged snacks, pizza and fruit, she said.
None of the neighbours reported what was going on to the authorities, saying they didn’t know how horrific the situation was behind closed doors.
The three surviving children were taken to hospital for treatment and to be assessed on Sunday. They appeared to be underfed and showed signs of physical injury, HCSO said. The youngest child had facial injuries.
The family was known to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services but there was no active investigation at the time they were found, a source told ABC13.
The Independent has reached out to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services for comment.
The Alief Independent School District told The Independent its last records of the children being enrolled in the district was 17 months ago in May 2020 when the 2020 school year ended.
Prior to this, the children’s mother had truancy papers filed against her after two of her children failed to show up to school.
A spokesperson said two truancy cases were filed by the district - in November 2019 and March 2020 - but were not prosecuted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The school attempted an unsuccessful home visit in September 2020, the spokesperson said.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a press conference on Sunday that the deceased child had been dead for “an extended period of time”.
“It appears that the remains had been there for an extended period of time. And I emphasise extended,” Sheriff Gonzalez said.
The sheriff said the surviving children had been living alone for “quite a long time” and were “fending for each other” while the remains of the other child decomposed around them. “It seems that they were in there while the body was deteriorating,” he said.
He added: “I haven’t been told they were necessarily locked in, but at that age, it appears they were basically fending for each other.”
Sheriff Gonzalez said he had never seen anything as “horrific” as this throughout his career.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and I had never heard of a scenario like this. It really caught me by surprise.”
He added: “Our hearts break for those three.”