DALLAS (AP) — The father of a missing toddler whose body was found in a culvert under a road in suburban Dallas has changed his story to say the girl didn’t wander off two weeks ago, but that she choked to death while drinking milk in the family’s garage.
Richardson police said Tuesday that the Dallas County medical examiner’s office used dental records to identify 3-year-old Sherin Mathew, whose body was found Sunday by searchers with cadaver dogs. The girl was reported missing by her father, Wesley Mathews, on Oct. 7.
Police said the cause of death is unknown.
Mathews, who adopted Sherin from India in June 2016 with his wife, Sini Mathews, was arrested Monday afternoon after he went to the police station with his lawyer to give a revised statement on what happened to the girl. A phone call to his attorney, Rafael De La Garza, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Mathews initially told police that he had sent the girl to stand outside at 3 a.m. because she refused to drink her milk. In his revised statement Monday, he said the girl choked on the milk and that he removed her body from the home after he believed she had died.
Richardson police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Perlich said Tuesday that the investigation is continuing, despite the revised statement.
“This by no means completes our investigation. It is possible there would be additional arrests or modifications of the charges as the investigation proceeds,” he said.
Mathews was initially charged with abandoning or endangering a child when he first reported the girl missing. Police charged him Monday with first-degree felony injury to a child, which is punishable with up to life in prison. He was being held on $1 million bond.
Perlich said police believe Sini Mathews was unaware of her husband’s actions and that she was asleep at the time he told police Sherin died. The mother had not been charged as of early Tuesday.
Perlich said Sini Mathews cooperated with police to identify Sherin’s body, but had otherwise not answered questions. A phone call to her attorney, Kent Starr, was not immediately returned Tuesday.
According to an arrest affidavit filed Tuesday by Richardson police, Wesley Mathews said Monday in an interview that he had been trying to get the girl to drink her milk in the garage.
“Eventually the 3-year-old girl began to drink the milk. Wesley Mathews then physically assisted the 3-year-old girl in drinking the milk,” according to the affidavit.
Mathews told police that Sherin began to choke, she was coughing and that “her breathing slowed.” He said he eventually he felt no pulse and believed the child had died. Investigators wrote that he “then admitted to removing the body from the home.”
The affidavit does not say whether Mathews told police he administered any medical aid to the child.
Perlich said the Mathews previously told police that the girl had developmental disabilities and was malnourished when they adopted her from India. The couple described a special diet regimen that required her to eat whenever she was awake, in order to help her gain weight.
He said he punished her for not drinking her milk by making her stand outside. He went to check on her at 3:15 a.m. and discovered was missing. Mathews said he decided at that point to do laundry while he waited for daylight to look for the girl or for her to return.
He called police and reported her missing about 8 a.m. Police had also sought surveillance camera footage from neighbors and local businesses, saying they believed one of the family’s cars– a maroon Acura SUV– had left the house between the hours of 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.
State Child Protective Services removed a 4-year-old girl, the Mathews’ biological daughter, from the home soon after Sherin was reported missing. A judge said Monday that the girl will remain in foster care until a custody hearing in November.
A spokeswoman for the state agency said family members in Fort Bend County, outside Houston, have expressed interest in taking care of the girl, but that a judge will decide where she is placed.
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