LAKEWOOD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Investigators are trying to determine how a missing Lakewood toddler ended up dead in an underground septic tank.
It’s unknown just how long the 2-year-old, who relatives identified as “J.C.”, was inside the underground tank. Her body was found Monday night after authorities said her parents reported her missing.
Rescue workers described the horrific discovery.
“I didn’t really see the body. I just noticed they found something,” said Michael Stewart with the Lakewood Department of Public Works. “They found the body as they looked. Depressed that they found the body in the septic tank.”
Investigators said the little girl had been playing in the yard with her four siblings Monday afternoon when she disappeared.
She was missing about 20 minutes when her mother, Marina Matias, called police and they launched an intense search, bringing in police helicopters, K-9 units and dozens of officers.
After three hours, investigators found a three-foot hole in the backyard leading to an underground septic tank and inside, the little girl’s body.
Investigators have called the girl’s death a tragic accident and said they believe the she simply fell through the hole, which was uncovered.
The young man believed to be the father of the 2-year-old girl appeared at the scene on Tuesday. His look told the story, a face filled in the emotions indicating what he must be struggling through.
The little girl’s aunt told CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman in Spanish, “This is such a terrible tragedy. Who could have imagined such a thing would happen to a little girl?”
J.C.’s mother, who rents the home, told police she didn’t even know the hole existed. Next-door neighbor Richard Castellucci told CBS 2’s Guzman he also didn’t know.
“Yes, my son used to run through there and play with the kids that lived there about two years ago,” Castellucci said, adding when asked if his son is still permitted to roam the yards, “no, no more.”
When asked if anyone knew the septic tank hole was there, Castellucci said, “I sure as hell didn’t.”
Most of the homes in this Lakewood neighborhood have underground tanks, including neighbor Lisa Brown’s house. She was home Monday and watched as the tragedy unfolded steps from her front door.
“My heart just went out to the family because you don’t want something like that to happen,” she said. “There are a lot of children in this neighborhood and older houses, it never even occurred to me that something like that might happen.”
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is looking into all the circumstances surrounding the child’s death, including whether the owner of the home could potentially be held liable.
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