Image: N.J. boys.
Agosto family via AP
Daniel Agosto, 6; Jesstin Pagan, 5; and Anibal Cruz, 11, pictured here, were found dead in the trunk of a car in Camden, N.J., on Friday.
updated 6/26/2005 10:48:47 PM ET 2005-06-27T02:48:47

As authorities began investigating why police failed to search a car trunk where three missing boys were found dead, the father of one of the children said Sunday he could not understand how they died so close to home.

Anibal Cruz, 38, said the family assumed that police looked in the trunk of the car that was parked just steps from where the boys were last seen playing.

“That was the first place to look,” Cruz said. “You can look through the windows and check inside. That is simple. Maybe they should have looked in the trunk.”

Officials said the boys suffocated after climbing into the trunk on their own. Their bodies were found by David Agosto, whose 6-year-old son Daniel had gone missing along with 5-year-old Jesstin Pagan and 11-year-old Anibal Cruz.

Authorities have said 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.

In addition to the formal review, City Council President Angel Fuentes said the council will hold a hearing on the matter Thursday.

“I know my colleagues and I have questions,” he said.

Searchers ‘100 percent committed’
Dozens of officials had searched for two days for the boys, using helicopters, a bloodhound and divers who searched the nearby Delaware River. On Sunday, Police Lt. Mike Lynch said officials felt many of the same frustrations as Cruz, but said it was premature to speculate.

Image: David Agosto
Tim Larsen  /  AP
David Agosto, center, father of missing child Daniel Agosto, is comforted after opening the trunk of a car on an empty lot in Camden, N.J., Friday and discovering the bodies of his son and two other boys who disappeared Wednesday.

“Whatever the circumstances are, I can tell you that the efforts of those searchers and those police officers and everyone involved were 100 percent committed,” he said.

One of the boys had played previously 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, prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said.

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

Sarubbi said some periods of hard rain on Wednesday evening may have muffled any noises from the well-insulated trunk, which was parked far enough from the house to make it difficult to hear any voices coming from it.

A joint funeral service for the boys was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday in Camden. A steady stream of visitors on Sunday placed stuffed animals, balloons, candles and notes in front of the yard where the boys were last seen playing together.

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