WASHINGTON – The decomposing bodies of four young people were found Wednesday by U.S. marshals delivering an eviction notice, and a woman who answered the door was taken into custody for questioning.
Investigators were trying to determine whether the woman was related to the four victims, who had been dead at least two weeks, authorities said. Her name was not released.
"She was apparently calm throughout," U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Cole Barnhart said.
Mayor Adrian Fenty said the condition of the bodies made it difficult to identify them. "It is going to take scientific tests run by the chief medical examiner's office," he said.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the bodies appeared to be of juveniles ranging in age from 5 to 18. Authorities were investigating how and when they died.
The case may not be ruled a homicide until the medical examiner determines the cause of death, police said. Lanier said there were no signs of forced entry into the home.
The bodies were found upstairs in the southeast Washington apartment, part of a block of virtually identical apartment houses near Bolling Air Force Base in one of this city's poorest areas, authorities said.
Larry Jones, who lives next door, said that a woman and two or three children live at the home but that he had not seen them since the summer. The children appeared healthy at the time, he said.
Jones added that in recent months he had noticed a "strange odor" coming through his vent.
"We thought it was probably dead mice in the vent or something," he said, adding that he had talked to the landlord about it.
D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who represents the neighborhood where the bodies were found, questioned why no one had reported the four missing.
"Somebody should have known that some people were not in school," said Barry, the former mayor.
D.C. schools spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said none of the children thought to be living in the home was currently enrolled in the school system. One child at that address had attended Stuart-Hobson Elementary School but withdrew in 2006 as a fifth-grader, she said.
Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Child and Family Services agency, said it had received one report about a family at that address in April through the city's child abuse and neglect reporting hot line.
"We made several attempts to make contact with these people. We were unable to have any face-to-face contact with them," Good said. "On the last attempt (in early May), it appeared they were no longer living at the address."
Investigators later found a new address for the family in Maryland and alerted county authorities there of the report on the family, Good said. She would not say where the family was believed to be living.
"This is a sickmaking situation. It's a horrible thing," she said.
Area resident Rowand Simpkins said that her neighbors tend to keep to themselves and that she never saw the woman or children.
"It's really a mystery," she said of the youths' deaths. "It's a sad situation."