- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — Three boys whose bodies were found in the trunk of a car following a massive, two-day search died from accidental suffocation, not foul play, authorities said yesterday.

The bodies were discovered Friday when David Agosto lifted the trunk lid of a banged-up maroon Toyota Camry in the yard where the boys were last seen. There, he found the bodies of his 6-year-old son Daniel Agosto; 5-year-old Jesstin Pagan and 11-year-old Anibal Cruz.

Officials said no foul play was suspected, but it was not clear why searchers — who combed the yard next to the Cruz family home — did not find the boys sooner.

The car was searched when police first responded to the report of the missing children Wednesday at about 8:30 p.m., Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said, though prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said it can be inferred that the trunk of the battered car had not been checked. He said police and prosecutors will issue a report on the handling of the search within 30 days.

A neighbor was watching when David Agosto made the tragic discovery. He broke out in tears, throwing himself against a car, and was later taken away on a stretcher by paramedics, crying and flailing his arms and legs.

“I saw him open the trunk and he just started screaming and he collapsed to the ground,” said Carmen Villa, 37, who lives across the street.

“It’s just a tragedy,” said Melissa Martinez, 25, weeping as she watched from Ms. Villa’s front yard across the street as police began cordoning off the scene. “They’ve been there all the time. We were just standing here yesterday saying ‘Where could they be?’ and the whole time, they were right there. It’s just heartbreaking.”

The boys vanished without a trace Wednesday night while playing in the yard, according to authorities.

For two days, searchers combed alleyways and woods, abandoned houses and vacant lots. Helicopters scanned from the sky, and boats searched the nearby Delaware River.

Strangers handed out missing persons fliers to passing motorists, civilians aided in the search and everyone wondered how three children could suddenly go missing at once.

Mr. Sarubbi said an uncle of one of the boys wanted to look in the trunk because he was searching for a set of jumper cables. Mr. Agosto accompanied him because “the thought may have crossed his mind that the boys may have been in that trunk,” the prosecutor said.

The car belonged to Carmen Lopez, the maternal grandmother of Anibal Cruz. The car was not working properly and had been parked in the shady, weedy area for about three weeks, Mr. Sarubbi said. He said one of the boys had in the past played in the car, but did not say which one.

The prosecutor said the hydraulic plunger that keeps the trunk from closing was not working, so the lid was able to swing closed and lock as soon as the boys stopped propping it up.

A full report from the medical examiner is expected, but no timeline for that was made public. That report is also expected to reveal the time the boys died, which authorities said they did not yet know.

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