PRINCESS ANNE, Md. -- Delmarva Power said Tuesday that it did not cut off power to a family of eight who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning because they were behind on their utility bills.
The utility discovered a stolen electric meter had been illegally connected to the rental home in Princess Anne where the family was living since November, CBS affiliate WBOC reported. The meter was disconnected for safety reasons on March 25, spokesman Matt Likovich said.
"There was no request to reconnect service," Likovich said in a statement. "Through the use of smart meter technology, Delmarva Power discovered a stolen electric meter was being used at the home on March 25, 2015.
Rodney Todd and his two sons and five daughters then used a generator for power. They were last seen alive on March 28.
Todd, a 36-year-old divorced kitchen worker at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and his children were accidentally poisoned by carbon monoxide from the gas-powered generator they were using to keep warm after their electricity was cut off, Princess Anne Police Chief Scott Keller Tuesday.
He said Delmarva Power has been subpoenaed to document exactly what it did when.
"I'm just numb. Like it's a nightmare but it's not," the children's mother, Tyisha Luneice Chambers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "If I had known he was without electricity, I would have helped."
Police responding to a missing persons report found their bodies Monday at the one-story wood-frame home on Maryland's Eastern Shore after school workers, friends and Todd's supervisor at work had knocked on the door with no answer.
"The children were all in beds and it appears as though they were sleeping," Keller said. "Probably it was bedtime and they decided they needed some light and probably some heat, because toward the end of March even though it was spring we were having some pretty chilly nights."
Why Todd ran the gas-powered generator inside his kitchen wasn't clear. The chief speculated that the noise would have bothered neighbors, had it been outside.
Todd got some welfare money, but it wasn't enough, said Sarah Hardy, his close friend.
"How can a man survive off of basically minimum wage with seven kids, and you can't help him with a utility bill?" Hardy asked. "This man was working. And Delmarva Power cuts the lights off?"
But as it turns out, the rental home never had legal power to begin with while the Todd family was there, the utility said. Electric service had been disconnected in October, and there was no request to reconnect it after the family moved there in November.
"Delmarva Power disconnected the illegally connected meter for safety reasons and to comply with standard protocol. Delmarva Power did not disconnect electric service at this address for nonpayment," the statement said.
It wasn't immediately clear Tuesday whether Todd made any arrangements with the utility or any other authorities to restore power after the illegal meter was removed. What is known is that Todd bought a generator to keep the lights on.
Tyisha Luniece Chambers said she had been the family's primary breadwinner when she and Todd were together.
"I was working 12-16 hours as a manager at McDonald's, the overnight shift. He was home cooking and cleaning and I was the working mom," she said.
Todd retained full custody of his children when his divorce from Chambers was finalized last September. Court records identified the boys as Cameron and ZhiHeem, and the girls as Tyjuziana, Tykeria, Tynijuzia, TyNiah and Tybreyia. Bonnie Edwards said her grandsons were 13 and 7, and granddaughters were 15, 12, 10, 9 and 6, respectively.
Chambers said after their split she paid child support up until Todd moved into the rental home in November.
"He wasn't a single parent. I was in their lives," Chambers said. "I love my kids and I'm sorry their father passed as well," adding that she planned to meet relatives at a funeral home on Wednesday.
Chambers said although Todd never harmed the children he was physically abusive to her, once stabbing her in the face. Court records show Todd served 16 months in prison for assaulting her.
But Hardy said there is more to that story.
"She abandoned him and the family," Hardy said."He came home, caught her in bed with another man, and the man was abusing the kids. He took his seven kids and her son and raised them on his own," Hardy said.
Bonnie Edwards said her son taught his children how to talk with elders and the value of education. He bought each a cake and a gift on their birthday, even though money was tight.
"There was nothing he wouldn't do for them," she said. "All he was trying to do was to keep his kids warm."
A co-worker at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Brittney Hudson, said Todd "was always smiling and laughing."
"He's the man you need to know and the man you want to be," said Bilel Smith, who lives nearby. "They were their own football team, their own basketball team. This is breaking our hearts."
Todd had received assistance paying his utility bills in the past, but did not apply for help this year, said Tom VanLandingham, who directs the Office of Home Energy Programs in Somerset County. Families can apply once a year, and assistance is based on household income and energy use, among other factors.
"We're all kind of baffled as to why he did not apply this year ... that's the million-dollar question," VanLandingham said before the utility's announcement.
Hardy said Todd's children had big personalities. The youngest, Tybria, "was the bashful type," Hardy said, "but she was really loving." Cameron, who Hardy nicknamed Pun, was a "quiet and reserved, but he was a casanova."
Hardy said the older girls loved makeup, and when Todd styled their hair_a skill he'd near mastered.
"They knew how it was to be siblings. They took care of each other," Hardy said, and they often helped their dad around the house, too.
"Even the little one," Hardy said, referring to seven-year-old ZhiHeem, "I'd see him with a little broom and dustpan."