Houston: All the hopes have faded away as the body of Sherin Mathews, 3, was discovered inside a tunnel beneath a road about half a mile from the house of her adoptive parents Wesley and Sini Mathews.
The Richardson Police has confirmed the identity of the girl hours after her foster father admitted that she was choked while drinking milk. The local community has been in prayer and rescue efforts since the child was reported missing on October 7.
Here is a recap of what happened in the past two weeks:
» Sherin Mathews, who had developmental issues and limited verbal communication skills, was last seen outside her family's backyard in Richardson city in Texas on October 7.
» According to the first statement of Wesley Mathews, Sherin's foster father, she went missing after he upbraided her and sent her alone outside later at night as a punishment for not finishing her cup of milk. Some 15 minutes later, he went to check on Sherin but did not find her.
» The tree was behind a fence, about 100 feet south of the family's home, and across an alley.
» After looking around for her, Wesley said he went inside to do laundry and decided to wait until morning to continue searching or for her to return on her own.
» All this time, the parents did not alert the police about her disappearance. They sought help from police about five hours later.
» Wesley Mathews admitted to the police that he knew coyotes or wild dogs had been seen in the alley.
» The special needs toddler, according to the reports, was adopted by the couple from an NGO in Bihar's Nalanda last year. Before adoption, Sherin's name was Saraswati.
The probe begins
» Following the complaint, the Richardson police started searching for the child and also released a missing notice seeking help from local community to share info on the matter.
» Meanwhile, the police arrested Wesley Mathews on the charges of abandoning or endangering a child and, later, released from custody on October 8 after posting $2.5 lakh (Rs 1.62 crore) bond.
» So far, the girl's foster mother does not face any charges. According to the police, she was in the house at the time, but was asleep and unaware of what Wesley Mathews was doing.
» Later, the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)'s evidence recovery team conducted searches at Wesley's home. However, the police said the search was only a part of the 'natural progression' of the investigation.
» The FBI seized nearly 50 items, including cellphones, laptops, a washer and a dryer from the home.
The turning point
» Soon, examining CCTV footages, the probe agencies found out that Wesley's 2013 maroon Acura MDX SUV, one of the three cars at his residence, had gone out of the premises at the same time in the night. Following the development, the police have requested more CCTV footages from neighbors and nearby shops.
» The FBI detectives retrieved DNA swabs, grass, debris and receipts from three vehicles. They also took a flash drive, seat belt and radio equipment from the family's SUV.
» Also, a court record showed that a navigation unit, likely from the Acura, was sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. A GPS navigation system will record the routes and stops, even if the system is not used.
» By this time, officials with Texas child protective services (CPS) removed the toddler's four-year-old sister from the family on October 9 and placed her in protective custody.
The search intensified
» Police went door-to-door in the neighborhood and used cadaver dogs, helicopters and drones to look for Sherin in 'areas of interest' they had developed during the course of the investigation, including fields, creeks and wooded areas.
» People from local community and volunteers from the Emmanuel Bible Chapel, which Mathews attended, joined the search in hope to find Sherin alive.
» In the following days, the police recovered some things, possibly pieces of evidence, from under a tree in the field.
» Meanwhile, the police said they were also actively investigating the legal status of Sherin's adoption.
» On the directions of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, the Indian consulate also initiated an investigation into the whereabouts of the child.
» Tweeting Onmanorama's story about the search operations, Sushma Swaraj said the government was deeply concerned about the child and the Indian Embassy in the US was actively involved in the matter.
» India's consul-general in Houston Anupam Ray tweeted: "We are closely monitoring the Sherin Mathews case. We have established contact with the community and authorities."
The community responds
» By the time, the case has created interest in the Indian diaspora and those who knew about the couple here in India. Many people in Richardson openly came out against Wesley Mathews on social media.
» Last week, a priest placed a sign outside the Mathews' family home calling on Sherin's parents to 'tell the truth.' "We the community are never going to stop until we find Sherin," said Thomas Ambalevelil, who is also a Keralite.
» The tree under which she was reportedly made to stand has now become a memorial of sorts with people lighting candles and dropping even milk bottles under it.
The other cases
» Meanwhile, the couple moved court to get back their other child from Texas CPS. On Oct 24th, Wesley and Sini attended the hearing at a Dallas County court to determine whether they could regain custody of their four-year-old biological daughter.
» However, the judge decided that the older sibling of Sherin will remain in foster care for at least three more weeks. The judge postponed custody hearing until November 13 to allow Wesley to hire a civil attorney.
» The Press Trust of India (PTI), citing 'reliable sources,' on Oct 25th, reported that the Mathews family are involved in another legal battle.
» Court documents reveal Sherin Mathews' parents will go to trial in February for a car crash they were involved in September 2015. The person suing them claims Sherin's father, Wesley, was behind the wheel and failed to slow down and or stop, crashing into the back of the plaintiff's car. The person suing them is asking between $1 lakh and $2 lakh from the Mathews in damages.
The home in Kochi
» Meanwhile, Wesley's parents who live in Vytilla, Kochi, left their residence, the Ebenezer cottage, in the city. The neighbors, still in shock at Sherin's disappearance, said the family was socially aloof and had no contact with anyone living around.
» The neighbors last saw the family in Vytilla on October 13.
All hopes end
» The police on October 23 announced finding the body of child from a tunnel in the area of E. Spring Valley Rd. and S. Bowser Rd. As part of their search operation, the police cordoned off the area.
» The body was found in a culvert beneath a road around 11am (local time) with the help of search dogs.
» Following this Wesley Mathews turned up at the Richardson Police department along with an attorney. This time he gave a statement that was different than he had initially given. Wesley was re-arrested on the same day.
» According to an arrest affidavit, Mathews told police that his daughter choked while drinking milk and he removed her body from the house as he believed she had died.
» According to the police, the first-degree felony injury to a child is punishable by up to life imprisonment or from 5 to 99 years in prison.
» On that evening, people gathered near the culvert where the police found the body. Many people expressed shock and disbelief at the father's second arrest.
» On Oct 24, the police confirmed the identity of the girl. Police said medical examiners used dental records to identify the body and confirmed it was that of missing Indian girl. Her cause of death is still pending.