HOUSTON - The children in Houston who were reportedly abandoned in an apartment as their dead brother’s body decomposed relied on neighbors to feed them.
"One day he came down and knocked down on my door and asked if I could charge his phone. So I charged the phone. From there I built a bond with him," neighbor Trevor Thompson told ABC 6 of a 15-year-old boy living in the apartment.
Harris County authorities responded to a call on Sunday after the 15-year-old boy told officials that his 9-year-old brother had been dead for a year. The teenager told the sheriff’s office that the body was in the apartment he shared with two other younger brothers, ABC 13 reported.
Police found a body that day and launched an investigation into the matter.
Neighbors are now saying that they had been helping the 15-year-old out with food. The neighbors added that they were never aware the teenager was also living with his 7- and 10-year-old brothers, let alone a decomposing body.
"I noticed his mom, a few times, would come and park, and he would run down and grab like noodles, drinks and chips and run back up," neighbor Erica Chapman told the outlet of the teenager.
Chapman said the noodles weren’t enough food, and offered the teenager additional food, but said he would never accept cooked food.
"He would not eat anything that you made," Chapman said. "You would have to buy it - like it had to be a salad that was closed from the store or a pizza. Fruits still had to be in a bag."
Thompson also noted that he never wanted homemade or cooked food.
"He wouldn't take cooked foods. He would take fruits and snacks," Thompson said.
Thompson and Chapman never knew about what was going on in the apartment but Thompson had questions one day after the 15-year-old used the pronoun "we" instead of "I."
"I asked, 'Did you like the pizza?' And he asked, 'The first pizza we had?'" Thompson said. "That made me wonder, why would he say, 'we?'"
Chapman said she believes the 15-year-old kept his brothers a secret because he feared he’d get in trouble about the dead body in the apartment.
"After finding out what happened [Sunday], I think he was more nervous and scared," Chapman said. "(He might be thinking) 'are they going to blame me for this? Are my parents going to punish me for this?' Maybe his parents told him they would be separated if he told anyone."
The boys’ mother and boyfriend were brought in for questioning Sunday night but released by Monday. No charges had been filed in the case as authorities were waiting on autopsy results of the body found in the apartment.
"I have been in this business a long time, and never saw anything like this," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said during a press conference Sunday, describing the scene as "horrific" and "tragic."
It was revealed that the boys’ mother lived only 15 minutes away from the apartment they were living in, and one neighbor said she frequently saw the mother and boyfriend leave their apartment.
"We see them come and go," Tanieka, who only wanted her first name used, told ABC 6. "We never saw any children. None."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is seeking emergency custody of the boys. Doctors examined the boys this week and said they were malnourished, and that the 7-year-old had facial fractures.