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The grisly discovery of the remains of three infants in a squalid, vermin-infested home last week in Blackstone has sent shock waves through the Worcester County town of about 9,000 near the Rhode Island border. Erika Murray, the 31-year-old mother of the children, has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including fetal death concealment and permitting substantial injury to a child, and is being held without bail.
As authorities continue to investigate, many questions remain regarding what exactly happened inside the home at 23 St. Paul St. Here are some of the questions we're asking:
Why did it take two weeks for authorities to search the home after children were removed?
On Aug. 28, four children — ages 13, 10, 3 and 6 months — were removed amid the deplorable conditions at the home after a neighbor called police about concerns over a crying child. Two weeks later, investigators returned to search the house.
The removal of the children came after the 10-year-old, a boy, went to a neighbor and asked, "How do you get a baby to stop crying?" according to Tim Conolly, a spokesman for the Worcester District Attorney's Office. The neighbor went to the home and discovered the 6-month-old baby covered in feces on a bed with no adults around. That neighbor then notified police, who conducted a well being check. The responding officers found the home in squalor with dirty diapers and trash piled high, and a massive rodent and insect infestation. The Department of Children and Families then took custody of the four children.
State records show the two older children are Murray's, but no birth records exist for the two younger children.
Detectives investigating a case of reckless endangerment of children later returned to the home and discovered the remains of three babies — one was found in a closet on Sept. 10 and two others were found on Sept. 11. The remains of several animals, including dogs and cats, were also found in the house, according to the Blackstone Police Department. The conditions of the house were again of note as investigators on the scene had to wear hazmat suits as they combed through the interior. The house was later condemned.
How did the three babies die?
Authorities have not yet determined how or when the babies died. A medical examiner is working to determine the cause of death. Murray's attorney, Keith Halpern, told WBUR he hopes it is possible for the medical examiner to determine whether or not the babies were stillborn, but it's his expectation that it will be impossible to determine if they were stillborn, or the cause of death. Halpern also expects DNA tests will show Rivera and Murray are the parents of the three dead children. According to the attorney, Murray was afraid of giving birth because Rivera did not want any more children.
Why hasn't the boyfriend been charged in this particular case?
Murray's longtime boyfriend Ramon Rivera III, 37, who lived in the house and is the father of at least some of the children, was charged with possessing and growing marijuana last month but has not been charged in the case, The Boston Globe reported.
According to the Globe, Murray reportedly kept the two younger children secret and Rivera, who stayed in the basement while Murray stayed on the main floors, did not know about them until the children were removed.
Murray's attorney, however, believes Rivera was aware of the dilapidated conditions of the home, the Boston Herald reported.
"He did not live exclusively in the basement. ... I think the notion that he barricaded himself in the basement and did not know what the rest of the house looked like is absurd," Halpern told the Herald.
What about that 2007 report of abuse or neglect?
The situation in Blackstone was reportedly also unknown to DCF. The state's child protection agency said in a statement that it learned about the situation after being notified by police last month. The agency, which has been under scrutiny for its handling of the case involving now-dead 4-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, also said it has never had an open case with the family.
The agency, however, did previously investigate a complaint of possible child neglect in 2007. On Friday, DCF said it didn't find anything to substantiate the report and did not open a case.
Correction: An earlier version of this article cited an Associated Press report, which mischaracterized Murray's lawyer's statement on the case. We have removed that citation and clarified his statement. We regret the error.
This article was originally published on September 15, 2014.
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