CAMDEN, N.J. – Police failed to follow proper procedures as they searched for three missing boys, neglecting a national group's recommendations to immediately look in enclosed spaces such as car trunks, a report released Tuesday said.
The report also faulted parents of the children for waiting three hours to call police, and for not disclosing during the massive search that one of the boys had previously played in the trunk of the car that was parked in the yard where they had been last seen.
Anibal Cruz (search), 11; Daniel Agosto (search), 6; and Jesstin Pagan (search), 5, were found dead in the car's trunk after two days of fruitless searching after they vanished June 22 from the yard of the Cruz home. An autopsy concluded they were alive for hours while the search continued.
"There's enough blame to go around — the city, the police and the family," said Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi (search).
Parents of the boys and their attorneys were given the report Tuesday morning; it was then released publicly.
Camden police never adopted search procedures recommended in 1998 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (search), the report said. That advice states that, in cases of missing children, police should immediately search confined spaces such as refrigerators and car trunks.
By the day after the boys vanished, 150 law enforcement officials were using boats, helicopters and search dogs in a vain attempt to find them. But the report said officials should have brought the dogs in sooner.
The bodies were discovered when a relative looking for jumper cables opened the trunk of a disabled Toyota Camry next to the Cruz home. An autopsy ruled the boys suffocated, dying between 13 and 33 hours after climbing into the car.
Peter M. Villari (search), attorney for one of the boy's mothers, said the report did not give a good explanation of why the car trunk was not examined.
"The police should have searched the trunk within an hour of getting there, but the parents should have searched there, too," said Villari.
The report did not blame any officers for failing to search the car. However, the document stated that, based on law enforcement documents, police and parents said five different times during the search that the car had been searched, even though that was incorrect.
Two officers apparently came very close. At about 3 a.m. June 23, about 10 hours after the boys disappeared, they banged on the trunk of the car and loudly called the boys' names but heard no response, the report stated.
Sarubbi said the medical examiner believes the boys did not answer because they already had lapsed into unconsciousness after falling asleep. The report states the boys did not struggle while in the trunk.
The boys apparently climbed into the trunk through the car's passenger compartment, moving items such as a tire iron and car jack into the compartment and leaving their shoes there as well, according to the report.
The report was not designed to blame a particular person, Sarubbi said, and he hoped its findings would be a catalyst for change in future missing persons cases.