It appears it was a horrible accident. Sad, sad story.
Officials: Missing N.J. Boys Suffocated
By GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 15 minutes ago
CAMDEN, N.J. - As their parents frantically searched for them, three small boys were tucked quietly into the trunk of a beat-up car, where any noise they may have made was muffled by insulation or drowned out by the sound of driving rain, officials said Saturday.
The boys' bodies were discovered Friday evening after a two-day search of several square miles of land and water, during which a police spokesman said officials were looking in "every trash can, every nook and cranny a 5-year-old could possibly be."
Authorities said Saturday that the boys had suffocated after climbing into the trunk on their own. No foul play was involved, said Camden County prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi.
Police had looked through the car when the children were first reported missing, and it was not clear why the trunk was not searched then, Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said. Sarubbi said police and prosecutors will issue a report on the handling of the search within 30 days.
Death certificates did not give a time of death for Jesstin Pagan, 5, Anibal Cruz, 11, and Daniel Agosto, 6. Officials said a full autopsy report may include an estimate.
"It's a tragic loss. We're all hurting right now," said Maggy Ortiz, 37, a cousin of Daniel Agosto's mother. "We all had faith that we were going to find them alive, not the way we found them."
Officials said one of the boys had played before in the car, which was owned by Anibal's maternal grandmother. It had been sitting for about three weeks in a shaded, weedy corner of the Cruz family's yard.
The deaths brought to 11 the number of children who have accidentally died in car trunks since 2000, according to Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group in Leawood, Kan., that tracks such cases.
"They were probably playing hide and seek and thought, 'Nobody will find us here,'" said Janette Fennell, the group's founder and president. "Unfortunately, they didn't, and it became this tragedy."
Fennell's group successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law requiring cars made beginning in 2002 to have release latches inside the trunk, but the Toyota in which the boys were found appears to have been made prior to 2002.
For two tortured days after the boys disappeared, dozens of officials searched their Camden neighborhood — checking in backyard sheds and abandoned houses and beneath manhole covers. Volunteers passed out thousands of fliers. A bloodhound tracked odors to the nearby Delaware River. Helicopters buzzed constantly overhead. Divers explored some small ponds and rescue boats patrolled the river's banks.
But it was finally chance that led to the grisly discovery Friday, just before thousands of Camden residents were to gather for a vigil for the missing children.
Sarubbi said an uncle of one of the boys wanted to look in the trunk because he was searching for a set of jumper cables. Daniel's father, David Agosto, accompanied him, the prosecutor said, because "the thought may have crossed his mind that the boys may have been in that trunk."
In a scene captured by television news crews, David Agosto lifted the trunk of the inoperable Toyota Camry and broke down in tears, throwing himself against a car. He was later taken away on a stretcher by paramedics, crying and flailing his arms and legs.
The prosecutor said the hydraulic plunger that keeps the trunk from closing was not working, so the lid was able to swing close and lock as soon as the boys stopped propping it up.
He said some periods of hard rain on Wednesday evening may have muffled any noises from the well-insulated trunk, which was parked far enough from the house to make it difficult to hear any voices coming from it.
Figueroa said if any law enforcement officials broke department rules in the search they would be disciplined, but otherwise he might simply order more training for the officers.
"I feel very bad, just like the community and law enforcement agencies, that three children were found in the trunk of the vehicle," Figueroa said.
By Saturday, the swarms of police were gone from the neighborhood, replaced by roadside memorials of candles, balloons and stuffed animals. Instead of passing out fliers, volunteers were collecting money for the boys' families.
Trenae Williams, 16, left a stuffed dog and remembered Anibal Cruz, who is known in the neighborhood as "Juni." Like many neighborhood residents, she was having a hard time accepting the explanation that the boys' deaths were accidental.
"I've known Juni since he was little," Williams said. "Juni always had a smile on his face."