The skeletal remains of a child, and three surviving siblings who appear to have been abandoned, were found inside an apartment in the Houston area, a sheriff said.
One of the children, a 15-year-old, called the Harris County Sheriff's Office on Sunday afternoon and told authorities his 9-year-old brother had been dead for a year and the body was inside the apartment, the office said in a statement.
Deputies responded and found the teen and two other siblings ages 10 and 7 living alone in the apartment, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told reporters. The other child's skeletal remains were also located.
"It appears that the remains had been there for an extended period of time. And I emphasize extended," Gonzalez said.
Deputies said the remains appeared consistent with the age provided by the 15-year-old, reports CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV.
The teen told deputies his parents hadn't been living in the apartment with him and his two younger siblings for several months, KHOU said.
The sheriff said it also appeared that the surviving children were "fending for each other," with the oldest sibling caring for the younger two. It was unclear whether any of the kids were attending school.
The younger children appeared to be malnourished and had physical injuries, he said. All three siblings were taken to a hospital to be assessed and treated.
"In our experience, it's always best to not speculate and just let the investigation take its course, but a very disturbing set of circumstances, so we definitely want some answers for these children," KHOU quotes Gonzalez as saying.
The mother of the children and her boyfriend were later located, authorities said. Both were questioned and released, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said Monday.
The cause of death of the young child will be determined by medical examiner.
A representative for the apartment's management company declined to talk to a KHOU reporter on-scene.
Neighbors expressed shock and disbelief when they learned about the children.
Kayla Williams told the Houston Chronicle she has two children but doesn't plan to tell them what happened. "I don't need to put this in their heads," she said. "This is crazy."
A neighbor who only wanted to be identified as Becca told KHOU she was devastated to learn about this situation. She said it hit her especially hard because she's a mom.
"I have a 21-year-old and an 11-year-old and I can never imagine leaving them abandoned anywhere," Becca said.
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