Sheriff’s deputies made the horrifying discovery on Sunday when they found three children — 15, 9 and 7 years old — and the body of the child. The first thing they wanted to eat was doughnuts, officials said.
Gonzalez on Wednesday called it a “gruesome child abandonment case” and it “seemed too horrific to be real.”
The 8-year-old child is believed to have died around Thanksgiving, Sgt. Dennis Wolford, the lead investigator with the sheriff’s homicide unit, said at a news conference.
The mother, Gloria Y. Williams, 35, was charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse, Gonzalez said.
Bond for Coulter has been set at $1 million and for Williams at $350,000 and both remain in custody, according to online court documents.
Efforts by CNN to find out whether either has an attorney were unsuccessful Wednesday.
In a news release, the sheriff’s office said the 15-year-old called authorities and said his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the room next to his. The teen said his parents had not lived in the apartment for several months.
“It seems that they were in there while the body was deteriorating,” Gonzalez said, referring to the other children.
The skeletal remains “were in plain view” and “weren’t concealed in any way,” the sheriff said Wednesday.
One of them, Erica Chapman, told KTRK that she started giving him food six months ago after noticing that the mother was rarely there.
“She would come and park, and he would run down and grab noodles, drinks and chips and run back up,” Chapman said.
The mother was dropping off food or having it delivered on a routine basis, Gonzalez said.
Another said the 15-year-old had knocked on his door and asked to use a charger, “and we built a bond from there,” Trevor Thompson told KTRK.
“I started offering him food because I knew he needed more than just a charger,” Thompson said.
“A few times I noticed the lights weren’t on, and it was quiet upstairs, so I figured there was trouble because the parents haven’t been there in a while,” Thompson said.
Both neighbors said they didn’t know there were other children and didn’t call authorities “because they didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation,” according to KTRK.
The children were very thin and said they were hungry, and the first thing they wanted to eat was doughnuts, Wolford said.
The apartment was in “deplorable condition,” Gonzalez said. There was no furniture, no bedding or blankets, the carpet was dirty, he said, and there were roaches and flies in the apartment.
Asked why the children didn’t call the police earlier, Wolford said they were in “absolute fear.” The 9-year-old had an injury to his jaw that is believed to have been caused a few weeks ago by Coulter, Wolford said.
The boy will need surgery, and that will happen soon, he said.
The mother and her boyfriend were living in a separate apartment, Gonzalez said, but the condition of that apartment is not yet known.
Gonzalez said it looked like the 15-year-old had been taking care of his younger siblings the best he could.
“It appears that they were basically fending for each other,” Gonzalez said.
The two younger children appeared malnourished and showed signs of physical injury, the sheriff’s office said. All three were transported to a hospital for treatment.
They are now in the emergency custody of The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, according to a statement sent to CNN by DFPS.
In May 2020, three of the children stopped attending school in the Alief Independent School District, according to Kimberly N. Smith, director of public relations and communications at AISD. Smith did not specify which three children she was referring to.
In 2019, school district officials began a truancy investigation into the mother for one of the children’s lack of attendance, but the case was dismissed at the end of the 2019-2020 school year by the District Attorney’s Office, Smith said.
“The children did not attend school during the 2020-2021 nor 2021-2022 school years. In September 2020, school personnel attempted a home visit in an effort to return the children to school which went unanswered,” Smith added.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office said it plans “to get to the bottom of what these children have endured.”
“Our specialized prosecutors continue to work with the sheriff’s deputies, as this horror is thoroughly investigated,” spokesperson Dane Schiller said in an email to CNN.
Correction: A previous version of this article had the incorrect age for one of the children. Law enforcement Wednesday corrected the age they provided for the middle child to 9.
CNN’s Carma Hassan, Amy Simonson and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.
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