The death of a nine-year-old boy whose skeletal remains were found over the weekend inside a Houston apartment also housing his three starving brothers has been ruled a homicide.
The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday revealed that the unnamed child suffered multiple blunt force injuries resulting in his death by homicide.
It is unknown at this time whether the victim’s mother or her boyfriend would face any charges in connection with the child’s death. As of Tuesday afternoon, no arrests have been announced.
According to a report from the victim’s 15-year-old brother, he and his two surviving siblings had been living with his decomposing body in their apartment for a year.
Shortly before the teen called 911 on Sunday, he texted his mother to tell her he could not take it anymore, it has emerged.
The 911 call led to a series of disturbing revelations, including that the three children, ages 15, 10 and 7, had been left to fend for themselves for several months, relying on food donations from unsuspecting neighbors to survive, while sharing an apartment with the decomposing remains of their sibling – even as their mother and her boyfriend lived just 15 minute away.
Detectives with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office questioned the couple before releasing them Monday pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. Child welfare services in Texas have also launched an investigation into the horror find at the apartment complex on Houston’s west side.
Erica Chapman, who lives at CityParc II at West Oaks Apartments, said she was among the people who had been feeding the malnourished 15-year-old, not knowing he was living with his two younger brothers.
‘The first time I saw him, he was sleeping on one of the slides,’ Chapman told KTRK.
Harris County Sheriff’s Department officers are seen above at a Houston apartment complex on Sunday afternoon where three children were found in a neglected state
The mother of the three children lived with her boyfriend just 15 minutes away from the apartment complex where her 9-year-old son was found dead
Investigators also found the decomposed body of a nine-year-old boy inside the apartment
Law enforcement officials said that the three children were given food by an unidentified neighbor
Chapman said she noticed that the teen’s mother was rarely home. She would occasionally show up bearing noodles, snacks and drinks. The abandoned teen would run downstairs to pick up the food and then return to the apartment.
About six months ago, Chapman said she started offering the 15-year-old food, but she said he refused to accept cooked meals, only agreeing to take packaged snacks, fruit and pizza.
Trevor Thompson, another neighbor who had been helping out the boy, told the station the child was paranoid and feared getting poisoned.
Thompson said the teen knocked on his door one day, asking to borrow a charger. After that, the neighbor said he forged a bond with the boy and started offering him food.
Both Thompson and Chapman said they had no idea there were two younger children living with the 15-year-old.
Thompson recalled that on one occasion he asked the teen if he liked the pizza he had given him.
‘And he asked, “What? The first pizza we had?”‘ Thompson recounted. ‘That made me wonder why would he say, “We.”‘
Erica Chapman said she had been feeding the 15-year-old boy because his mother only rarely showed up to giver him snacks
Chapman speculated that the teen may have concealed the existence of his brothers because he was afraid of being blamed, punished by his mother or separated from his siblings.
The neighbors said they never called the authorities because they did not grasp the severity of the situation involving the teen, who was described as quiet and discreet.
‘I didn’t want to push him away by asking questions because I knew he was starving and needed food,’ Chapman said.
Alief Independent School District told KTRK that in 2019 and 2020, the school district filed truancy papers against the siblings’ mother because two of them were not attending school. The children were last enrolled in May 2020.
All three surviving siblings were taken to a hospital for treatment. They were said to be malnourished and injured, and the 7-year-old had broken bones in his face.
An autopsy is being conducted on the fourth child to determine a cause of death.
According to investigators, the 15-year-old said that the parents hadn’t been living at home for months, effectively abandoning the children to be on their own.
When police arrived to the home on Sunday afternoon, they found the brother’s skeletal remains out in the open, KPRC-TV reported.
The two younger boys appeared to be malnourished and ‘showed signs of physical injury,’ according to law enforcement officials.
‘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.’
Trevor Thompson, who did not want to be shown on camera, also had been helping the teen. He was the boy was paranoid and feared of being poisoned
In an update late Sunday, Gonzalez revealed that the children’s mother and her boyfriend have been located and interviewed by homicide detectives.
On Monday, the sheriff announced that the couple was released without being arrested or charged with any crime. No explanation was provided for the decision to let the pair go at this time.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office wrote in an email to DailyMail.com: ‘This is an active investigation, with charges pending.’
Authorities have not said whether or not they were looking for the children’s biological father.
‘Connecting all the dots, it seems they were in there while the body was deteriorating,’ the sheriff said.
HCSO is now investigating to determine the circumstances that led to the death of the minor and how long the kids had been alone.
‘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 on 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.’
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said a unit was sent to do a welfare check at the residence after receiving a call. The body was not concealed
Residents of the area said that management had been doing inspection rounds in the area for the last couple of weeks.
A neighbor living next door to the siblings told KTRK she had no idea there was anyone occupying that unit, let alone children.
The neighbor in the apartment complex told the station KTRK that she complained for months about a foul odor emanating from the unit where the shocking discovery was made over the weekend.
She said that 13 or 14 months ago, she first noticed a vile odor wafting from what she thought was an abandoned apartment.
The smell was so bad, the woman said, that she would be forced to turn off her air conditioning to prevent it from entering her apartment through the vents.
The neighbor said she complained several times to the building’s management about the smell, but it is unclear if anyone had gone to the unit housing the siblings to inspect it.
Other residents wondered if the children attended school and, if so, why a teacher or administrator didn’t notice anything unusual.
The children had seemingly been left abandoned by adults for a long period of time and were ‘fending for each other’
Homicide investigators along with CPS and Child Abuse investigators are also working on the case
Police said the investigation is still in the preliminary stages .
‘Very horrific situation here, very tragic. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’ve never heard of a scenario like this, it really caught me by surprise,’ said Gonzalez when addressing the media on Sunday evening.
‘We are trying to identify next of kin to determine exactly what happened and how we got to this point…We’re going to make sure we conduct a thorough follow-up investigation,’ he added.