A medical examiner determined this week that three sisters who briefly went missing before their bodies turned up in a Texas pond last summer were strangled to death before being abandoned in the water, sparking a homicide investigation.
The bodies of Zi’Ariel Oliver, 9, Amiyah Hughes, 8, and Temari Oliver, 5, were found in the pond on July 30 in rural Cass County—near the border with Arkansas. Their deaths were initially reported as tragic drownings that sent their family and the small community of Atlanta, Texas, into mourning.
New details emerging this week paint a different picture of what happened, however. A medical examiner determined the sisters had “lacerations” on their faces and that they all died by strangulation, said Cass County District Attorney Courtney Shelton in a news release obtained by the Texarkana Gazette.
The kids were reported missing around 9 p.m. on July 29 by their cousin, Paris Propps, who was babysitting them and their other three siblings—who were unharmed—while their mom worked, the Gazette previously reported.
Dive teams from a neighboring county rushed to a pond on their neighbor's property, about 200 feet from their home, after an abandoned shoe and purple bicycle was spotted nearby. The Gazette reported that the siblings’ bodies were found around 3 a.m. the following morning.
Shommaonique Oliver, the girls’ mother, posted to Facebook that the loss of her “sweet babies” had been “so unreal.” She later wrote in a GoFundMe fundraiser, which raised $17,000, that the tragedy was a “big shock.”
Multiple calls and messages to family members of the sisters were not returned on Friday afternoon. But Oliver posted a photo of the girls on Facebook this week with the caption: “Mama sweet babies Justice will come!!!” and commented to a follower, “it’s just taken too damn long.”
Last summer, Cass County Sheriff Larry Rowe told the Gazette that he had “no idea” what the girls were doing near the pond, with other officials confirming the kids weren’t wearing life jackets or swimwear.
Shelton said “multiple witness statements” have been taken by authorities and that DNA testing is ongoing. He made no mention of potential suspects or a possible motive in the alleged triple slaying.
-- Justin Rohrlich contributed reporting