Mother of kids left in Texas house of horrors with brother’s decomposing skeleton lived 15 minutes away

·5 min read

The mother of the three children left abandoned in a Texas house of horrors with another child’s decomposing skeleton for a year lived with her boyfriend just 15 minutes away and would occasionally drop food off for her kids, it has been claimed.

The woman and her boyfriend, who have not been publicly named, were living together in Westchase after leaving her malnourished children to fend for themselves many months ago, according to ABC13.

The three children, aged 15, 10 and seven, were found living in “deplorable conditions” at the nearby apartment complex at 3530 Green Crest in Harris County on Sunday, authorities said.

The skeleton of another child, thought to be the nine-year-old brother of the other three, was found lying in the open in the apartment and decomposing.

It is not yet clear how the child died.

Neighbours said they gave 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.

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.

HCSO told The Independent that “charges are pending”.

A neighbour of the mother and boyfriend’s Westchase home told ABC13 she would often see the couple 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 helping to feed the abandoned kids.

One neighbour told ABC13 she occasionally saw the mother bring food to the children.

“She would come and park, and he would run down and grab noodles, drinks and chips and run back up,” said Erica Chapman.

Ms Chapman said she started giving the 15-year-old boy 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.

Another neighbour, Trevor Thompson, who also said he gave the older boy food and charged his phone for him, echoed this.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on the scene after the 15-year-old boy alerted authorities (© 2021 Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle)
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez on the scene after the 15-year-old boy alerted authorities (© 2021 Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle)

Mr Thompson told ABC13 he also didn’t know there were two other boys living there and said the teen would only accept certain food because he was paranoid and afraid of getting poisoned.

He said he began to wonder after the boy once referred to “we” when they spoke about a pizza he gave him. He said alarm bells first started ringing when he didn’t see the parents for a long time and noticed no lights on in the home.

“A few times I noticed the lights weren’t on, and it was quiet upstairs, so I figured there was trouble because the parents haven’t been there in a while,” he said.

“One day, he came here and knocked on the door and asked if he could use the charger, and we built a bond from there.

“I started offering him food because I knew he needed more than just a charger.”

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 grim scene was only discovered when the 15-year-old called the sheriff’s office on Sunday afternoon, saying his nine-year-old brother had been dead for a year and his body was 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, reported ABC13.

While the scene has shocked officials and members of the local community, it has also raised questions around how the young children slipped through the net.

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 Alief Independent School District told the outlet its last records of the children being enrolled in the district was 17 months ago in May 2020.

Prior to this, the children’s mother had truancy papers filed against her after two of her children failed to show up to school.

The Independent has reached out to both the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and Alief Independent School District for comment.

It is not clear if the boyfriend the mother was living with is the father of any of the children.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences is working to determine the identity and manner and cause of death of the fourth child.

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.

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.”

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