The death of a child whose skeletal remains were found Sunday in an apartment near Houston, where three underage brothers were abandoned, has been ruled a homicide, authorities said Tuesday.
The unidentified child died from homicidal violence with multiple, blunt-force injuries, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, commonly known as the county's medical examiner's office. A spokeswoman with the office said Tuesday afternoon medical personnel had not positively identified the remains.
Thomas Gilliland, a spokesman with the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said it is still unknown if the remains belonged to a 9-year-old boy who was the sibling of three other boys found in an apartment without parental supervision.
“Our investigation is still ongoing. Now that we have the findings of the autopsy report, that will be presented, along with our other findings, to the district attorney’s office to see if they will accept charges,” said Gilliland, who is also a senior deputy with the sheriff's office.
Evidence linked to the case could be given to county prosecutors as soon as Wednesday, Gilliland said. The focus of the investigation is the children’s mother and her boyfriend, Gilliland said.
The sheriff’s office received a call Sunday from a 15-year-old boy, who reported the body of his 9-year-old brother was in the room next to his, the agency said in a statement. The boy had been dead for a year, and the parents had not lived in the apartment for "several months," the teen told the sheriff's office, according to the statement.
When deputies arrived, they found the "remains of a small child, which appeared consistent with the age provided by the 15-year-old" and two other boys in the house ages 10 and 7, the sheriff’s office said.
The boys appeared malnourished, showed signs of physical injury and were brought to a hospital, according to officials. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Monday morning that the mother of the children and her boyfriend had been interviewed and released. No charges have been filed.
Gilliland said the circumstances surrounding the case, and why the three boys had been living on their own “at least since February,” remain under investigation.
“They lived in these apartments and the rent was paid,” Gilliland said. “How it happened. What motive was behind them living separate from their children … that is part of the investigation.”
Gonzalez has called the situation “heartbreaking."
Melissa Lanford, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said on Tuesday the state took custody of the three brothers found abandoned.
“To ensure the safety of the children, The Department of Family and Protective Services sought and received emergency custody of the three boys,” she said in a statement. “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.”
NBC affiliate KPRC in Houston reported neighbors had smelled a foul odor coming from the third-floor apartment where the children lived.
"This is very shocking for me. Very shocking and sad — very sad," Neighbor Kayla Williams told the news outlet. "My thing is where is the parents? And why would you leave your children?"
KPRC also reported Gonzalez said the children were getting food and the apartment's rent was being paid for. But who was providing for the children with rent and food was unknown.
"At plain view it appears they are living in pretty deplorable conditions," Gonzalez said. "It appears they were caring, basically, fending for each other."