STLTodayTwin 2-year-old girls found dead in a sweltering car Wednesday in this southeast Missouri town apparently had a close call two weeks ago, getting locked in the same car but rescued before they overheated, police say.
The girls, Allannah and Alliya Larry, were found dead on the floorboard of their grandmother's locked Chevy Impala at about 4 p.m. Wednesday. Police think the girls sneaked outside -- sometime after 1:30 p.m. -- while their grandmother was napping.
The car was locked, and relatives had to smash the car's window to get them out.
Police Chief Ronnie Adams said an autopsy will be conducted Thursday in Cape Girardeau, but he said investigators already presume that both girls died from the heat. When police took a temperature reading inside the car on Wednesday -- more than an hour after the girls' bodies were pulled out, and after the broken window allowed the interior to cool somewhat -- it was 140 degrees inside the car.
"We had to get a locksmith and get them out," Adams said of the earlier incident. The girls hadn't been in the car long that day, and they weren't hurt.
But Wednesday had a tragic end that has rocked many in this Bootheel town of 3,200 people, about 170 miles south of St. Louis.
Police aren't sure if another child, a 3-year-old boy, had played a role somehow in the girls gaining access to the car. The door lock was automatic and, once inside the car, the girls could've easily locked themselves in by pushing a button. But opening the door by themselves to climb inside? That's one of the aspects that has police wondering if someone else was involved.
"We don't know if the girls got in the car themselves, or if the 3-year-old let them in," Adams said.
The boy was found unharmed in the house Wednesday. Police have tried talking to the boy about what happened, but he isn't talking. State workers have taken him to live elsewhere while the investigation continues. The Portageville Police Department, New Madrid County Sheriff's Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol are working on the case.
Smith never left her car locked because the lock was damaged, Adams said. Instead, she left it unlocked and used her key only for the ignition.
At about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Smith, the twin girls and the 3-year-old boy all reclined on the sofa for a nap inside her apartment at the Lakeview Apartments. The twins lived with their mother, in an apartment in the same complex, but the mother apparently was away running errands while the grandmother babysat them.
When the grandmother woke up to take an 18-year-old to work, she couldn't find the twins. She looked into the car and found them on the floorboard. They broke a side window to get to the girls. They carried the girls into the apartment, laying one on the bed with a fan blowing on her, and put the other in a bathtub.
"They tried to cool them down, but they were already dead," Adams said.
When police arrived, they put the girls' bodies on the couch. The family was hysterical.
"It was tough to see," Adams said. "We had a mess on our hands."
Brionna Smith, 17, who is the twins' cousin, said: "Everybody is so devastated. They are just babies."
This year, the girls became the 11th and 12th children to die in the United States after being left in hot cars, according to Jan Null, an adjunct professor of meteorology at San Francisco State University. Null keeps statistics on deaths of children left in hot cars. Since 1998, 458 children have died of hyperthermia after being left in cars in the United States, according to Null's findings.
After 10 minutes, the average temperature inside a car is 19 degrees higher than the outside air temperature. After another 10 minutes, it goes up another 10 degrees. So after 20 minutes, it would have been 121 degrees inside the shady part of the car in the Portageville case.
"There are slow cook recipes that are in these temperature ranges. These are horrific deaths," Null said.
"If we jump up to an hour, the temperature would be about 137. After an hour, it doesn't rise much more. It sort of plateaus between 45 to 50 degrees above whatever the outside air temperature is. On a 92-degree day, it would be 137 (after one hour) in the shade inside the car."
About the same time Wednesday that the police in Portageville were recording the car's temperature, police in Kingsville, Texas, were called to a home where a 1-year-old girl died after being left in a hot car. A mother had left her daughter in a parked car for about 45 minutes, police say. The temperature in Kingsville was 91 degrees at the time police were called, and the heat index was 102, police reported. That girl became the 13th known victim of the year.
"It's just a major tragedy that can be prevented very easily by locking the car," said Shawn Martin, director of programs for the nonprofit Harrison's Hope, which runs a campaign to promote child safety around cars. "Your car is not safe, even when it is parked in your driveway. Kids are curious and they will go play."
Cracking a window does not help, she said. She urged anyone who sees a child, flushed and cranky, left inside a car to call 911 immediately.
Full story: STLToday
Read more stories in the news.