A married couple in Texas is under arrest, and authorities say their toddler was found dead inside his sweltering, feces-riddled room that also contained a makeshift cage.
Daniel D. Dennis, 25, and Erin M. Dennis, 23, were taken into custody on Tuesday and charged with crimes related to their two surviving children, but authorities said they “fully expect” the parents to face charges over the death of their 18-month-old son David Dennis, Tyler ABC affiliate KLTV reported.
According to the report, investigators and deputies with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday evening responded to a 911 call about an unresponsive baby at a home located on Private Road 7801. Upon arriving at the scene, personnel with the UT Health Emergency Medical Services reportedly told investigators that an 18-month-old child had been pronounced dead inside the home. Though EMS reportedly said the cause of the child’s death was not immediately known, they noted that the room in which they found the toddler’s body was dangerously hot.
“The mother said she awoke Tuesday morning to play video games,” the sheriff’s office said. “She then checked on the three children and found the 18-month-old dead.”
According to an affidavit obtained by the station, EMS personnel told investigators the room was equipped with a small white space heater and that the toddler had been “down for a while” by the time they arrived. EMS reportedly said they took the temperature of the child’s room six minutes after arriving and it registered at 97 degrees Fahrenheit.
The toddler’s temperature reportedly registered at 103 degrees Fahrenheit when measured from the boy’s chest and head. The child’s body temperature was particularly odd, since medics on the scene also reported that it was “clear” that rigor mortis had set in to the body, meaning that David was dead for at least four to six hours when his temperature registered at the equivalent of a dangerously high fever.
Erin reportedly told investigators that when she put David down to sleep the previous night she didn’t notice anything strange except for a small rash and bug bites.
When detectives arrived at the house they reportedly noted that the residence was “horrible” with “human feces on the wall and dirty diapers on the floor,” including in the room David shared with his 2-year-old brother.
There were also two cribs inside the room, one of which “had been turned upside with the mattress on the floor and the metal supports across the top creating a ‘cage,’” the affidavit said. The crib was also reportedly surrounded by a fence that completely encircled the structure.
Investigators then reportedly saw the bedroom of the couple’s third child, a 4-year-old girl. When a detective made a comment about the girl’s room having a lock on the outside of the door, Erin reportedly responded that the lock was needed because the child was “an escape artist.”
Inside, the room was reportedly empty except for a crib mattress in the corner of the room. The detective also reportedly said the walls and inside of the door were covered in what appeared to be human feces. Per the affidavit, “a small child’s handprints were visible in the feces” and the room reeked of human waste.
Police said a search of the parents room revealed “several firearms leaning against the wall unsecured.”
The two surviving children were sent to UT Health Hospital where doctors reportedly said both showed signs of trauma and physical abuse. They were both placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.
Henderson County 392nd Judicial District Judge Scott McKee issued the arrest warrants for both Daniel and Erin on the charge of abandonment and endangerment of a child. Their bonds were set at $1 million.
“This is a horrible case and scene,” Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said in a statement.
“I am awaiting the official autopsy report, but I fully expect additional charges for the death of the youngest child,” he added.
[image via HCSO]
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