Police found a 5-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl dead in an East Haven home during a natural gas leak on Tuesday afternoon that also sent their mother and three responding officers to the hospital. Police are investigating the children's deaths as "suspicious."
East Haven police and firefighters responded to a medical emergency at 541 Strong Street in East Haven at 2:41 p.m. on Tuesday and found a 36-year-old mother despondent with apparent injuries.
Upon further investigation, they discovered the gas was on in the home and found two children dead when they went inside to search for other occupants.
"My friend sent me a letter that she was going to kill herself," the caller said. "She says she cut herself, but I can’t get in the house."
Responding officers didn't report seeing any trauma on the kids' bodies and said that the position of the bodies didn't reveal anything suspicious. But police are still currently classifying the deaths as "suspicious," East Haven Police Chief Brent Larrabee said. Police didn't elaborate on why but said it will be up to the medical examiner to determine the causes of death.
The children attended a New Haven magnet school, according to statements from New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Supt. Garth Harries.
“Under circumstances like this we are reminded how arbitrary manmade borders are; these children from East Haven were enrolled in a New Haven school and played baseball in a local Pop Smith league,” Harp said in a statement. “Today our entire community grieves in the sudden darkness where the bright light and promise of these young lives had been shining.”
“The New Haven Public Schools community is heartbroken by this unimaginable tragedy. We hug our children a little tighter as we mourn the loss of these beautiful young lives whose smiles lit up the school each day," Harries said a statement. "Their family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers. We will support our students and staff with counselors and social workers as they cope with this devastating loss.”
Three officers who were exposed to the gas were treated by East Haven firefighters at the scene, then transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries. At least two of them have been released from the hospital.
The children's mother was also taken to the hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries, including gas inhalation and injuries on her arms, police said. Police didn't elaborate on her arm injuries or say how she sustained them.
No one else was found in the home.
Police said it's unknown whether the gas was in the air because of a breakage or whether someone turned it on, but Larrabee said, "I would say from observation it was probably turned on."
Investigators haven't interviewed the mother yet because she's still being treated at the hospital, but they are waiting to speak with her.
The woman was conscious when she left the scene, but was dazed and traumatized and had difficulty responding, police said.
The names of the mother, children and three police officers will not be released until their families are notified.
The father was at the scene and was "devastated," police said.
"Our condolences go out to the family, friends and relatives of this family. It's a sad time for our town and our community," East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo said during a news conference on Tuesday evening.
Carolyn Parillo, a neighbor, expressed devastation about two children who died in the home just across the street from hers and said that "we've seen those kids playing."
She doesn't know what she can say to her neighbor that will help, but said she is "just very sorry for their loss."
“It’s going to be on our minds for a very long time I’m sure," Parillo said.
Lisa Criscuolo, the next-door neighbor, said her family has been living on the street for 23 years and they've "never seen anything like this."
She has seen the mother out in the yard as the children played and said "today is definitely a tragedy day for our town and for our street."
“It’s definitely going to be something that I’ll always remember," Criscuolo said. "I wish I didn’t have it embedded in my head but I will.”
Strong and View streets were shut down in East Haven due to the police investigation at the home, but only the block around the house on Strong Street was closed as of Wednesday morning.
State police major crimes detectives, the New Haven state's attorney's office and office of the chief medical examiner are assisting with the investigation.
The police officers are doing OK, but seeing the two deceased children was difficult, so they will be provided with counseling as needed, Larrabee said.
The East Haven school system has also been notified in case any children in the area need support, Maturo said.
Police ask anyone with information about this incident to call the East Haven Police Detective Division at 203-468-3827.