- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — As authorities began investigating why police failed to search a car trunk where three missing boys were found dead, members of the boys’ tight-knit neighborhood gathered to mourn their loss.

The boys — ages 5, 6 and 11 — were missing for two days before one of their fathers found them in the trunk of a car. Officials said the boys had suffocated after climbing into the trunk.

“We feel like it’s our kids,” said Sara Mendez, 50. “Now people are going to take more care of their kids because this happened. We’re going to learn something from this.”

Residents left a makeshift memorial of balloons, stuffed animals and candles on a street corner and started collecting money for the families of Jesstin Pagan, 5; Daniel Agosto, 6; and Anibal Cruz, 11.

In front of the gray, stucco duplex where Anibal lived, someone placed three empty chairs on the sidewalk. Daniel’s father collapsed in grief next to one of the memorials Saturday.

Dozens of officials had searched for the boys, using helicopters, a bloodhound and divers who searched the Delaware River. But the children ultimately were found Friday in a car that police had looked through when the boys were first reported missing.

Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said that if any law-enforcement officials broke department rules in the search, they would be disciplined. Police and prosecutors were expected to issue a report within 30 days on the handling of the search.

Death certificates did not give a time of death for the boys. Officials said a full autopsy report might include an estimate.

One of the boys had played before in the car, which was owned by Anibal’s maternal grandmother. It had been sitting for about three weeks in a shaded, weedy corner of the Cruz family’s yard.

The hydraulic plunger that keeps the trunk from closing was not working, so the lid was able to swing close and lock as soon as the boys stopped propping it up, Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said.

Federal law requires that cars made beginning in 2002 have release latches inside the trunk, but the Toyota in which the boys were found appears to have been an older model.

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