The child whose skeletal remains were found in a Houston-area apartment Sunday along with three abandoned siblings died violently sometime around Thanksgiving last year, authorities said Wednesday.
The boy was 8 years old when he was killed via physical abuse allegedly by his mother's boyfriend Brian Coulter, who has been charged with murder, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, during a news conference Wednesday, said the scene inside the third-floor apartment where the boy's skeletal remains were found and where three siblings, ranging in ages from 7 to 15, lived was unfurnished and full of roaches, flies and soiled carpeting.
The oldest boy contacted authorities and led them to a crime scene that shook even the most-seasoned investigators because of circumstances "too horrific to be real," Gonzalez said.
"In the midst of the darkness and this horrific situation, I'm so glad that this 15-year-old finally reached out for help," Gonzalez said. "I'm glad that he found assistance at the end of the other line with one of our call-takers. And I'm comforted to know that when he opened the door, and there was a Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy there, that they could finally receive the care and protection that they needed for so long."
The dead boy's mother and her boyfriend were charged Tuesday in the child's death, the sheriff's office said. Officials on Tuesday said the death was a homicide.
Coulter, 31, faces a murder charge, and the boy's mother, Gloria Williams, 35, faces charges of injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence, Gonzalez tweeted Tuesday night.
Both are in custody, and it was not immediately clear if they had an attorney. Gonzalez said Wednesday the case remains under investigation and more charges could be forthcoming.
The child died from homicidal violence with multiple blunt-force injuries, according to the county's medical examiner's office, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. A spokeswoman with the office said Tuesday afternoon medical personnel had not positively identified the remains.
Williams and Coulter, who were a couple for more than a year, moved out of the apartment and lived separately from the children, at least two of whom were believed to be on the autism spectrum and were described as "special needs," officials said Wednesday.
"Common sense would tell you that they're distancing themselves from a dead child," said Sgt. Dennis Wolford, who supervises the sheriff's office homicide unit, of why the couple allegedly abandoned the children. "By the time they moved out, you're talking about probably five or six months after death. They know the entire time there is a dead body in this apartment."
Wolford said Sunday the middle child in the apartment had a visible jaw injury investigators believe Coulter caused. The child needed surgery, Wolford said.
Wolford said Coulter was physically abusive to the children, while Williams was an "abuser by omission." Officials said Wednesday there was no evidence Williams was abused by her boyfriend.
NBC affiliate KPRC in Houston reported Coulter's bond was set at $1 million in a hearing early Wednesday. If he posts bond, Coulter must wear a GPS ankle monitor under house arrest until his next court appearance. Williams' bond was set at $900,000, the news outlet reported.
When the teen sibling called the sheriff's office Sunday, he said his 9-year-old brother had been dead in the apartment for a year, the sheriff's office said. The boys appeared malnourished, showed signs of physical injury and were brought to a hospital, according to officials.
Gonzalez has called the situation "heartbreaking." He added investigators learned the boys may not share the same father. He also said Williams periodically provided food for the children and that the apartment was paid for through government assistance.
The children last attended school in May 2020, said Craig Eichhorn, a spokesman for the Alief school district. They didn’t return for the 2020-2021 school year, and school officials attempted an unsuccessful home visit in September 2020, Eichhorn said.
A judge on Monday granted the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services temporary custody of the three children.
Melissa Lanford, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said in a statement Tuesday that the department "sought and received emergency custody" of the three boys found abandoned in the apartment.
"Child Protective Services does have history with the family, but there was no active CPS investigation at the time the children were discovered alone in their apartment," Lanford said.
Lanford said in an email Wednesday morning that the children are safe in CPS custody. She cited the active criminal investigation when declining additional comment.