MOORHEAD, Minn. – Seven members of an immigrant family from Honduras whose bodies were found inside a Minnesota home last weekend died of apparently accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said Wednesday.
Relatives of the family discovered the victims Saturday night in a home in south Moorhead when they went to check on them after not hearing from them. Police are still working on a time frame of the deaths but said the three children who lived there were not in school on Friday.
Officials with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul examined blood samples to determine cause of death. Those tests showed a lethal level of carbon monoxide, authorities said.
Police Chief Shannon Monroe said the carbon monoxide came from either the home's furnace or a van in the garage. Technicians couldn't find a defect in the furnace that would have sent carbon monoxide into the home. Moore said further tests were being done to determine whether the victims had hydrogen cyanide in their blood, which would point to the van, and those tests might take up to eight weeks.
Investigators found that a carbon monoxide detector in the garage had been removed and replaced with a smoke-only detector. Monroe said the van had a half-tank of gas and a dead battery. The chief said that in cases of intentional carbon monoxide exposure, vehicles are usually found with empty gas tanks.
“There’s no indication of any kind of criminal activity,” Monroe said. “Unless we find something else yet later in the investigation, right now it’s pointing toward some type of accidental situation.”
The family members were identified earlier as Belin Hernandez, 37; Marleny Pinto, 34; Eldor Hernandez Castillo, 32; Mariela Guzman Pinto, 19; Breylin Hernandez, 16; Mike Hernandez, 7, and Marbely Hernandez, 5. They all lived together, police said.
Belin Hernandez and Marleny Pinto were the parents of Breylin, Mike and Marbely; Eldor Hernandez Castillo was Belin's brother; and Mariela Gusman Pinto was Marleny's niece, family members said.
The two-story twin home, which authorities said was between 5 and 7 years old, did not have a basement and all the bedrooms were upstairs. The furnace was in a separate room inside the garage.
Monroe said the victims were wearing light clothing, indicating the heat had been working. By the time first responders arrived, the temperature was 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius) in the house and only the furnace fan was on.
Five of the victims were found in their beds. Belin Hernandez and Marleny Pinto were on the floor in the bedroom area.
“It would appear to us possibly that the parents were still awake when this happened,” Monroe said.
Residents in the adjoining unit had no signs of carbon monoxide sickness, police said.
Family members who gathered at the house Monday to share stories described their loved ones as happy people who were relieved to get away from turmoil in Honduras. They had been in the United States between three and eight years, a family translator said.
“They love this community,” Monroe said of the surviving family members. “They are very pleased with the outpouring of support they’ve seen so far. Just know that these are terrific members of our community and this is a huge and tragic loss at a holiday season.”
Moorhead is on the Minnesota border next to Fargo, North Dakota, in a metropolitan area of about 230,000 people.