Houston: People in the US city of Richardson are mourning and angry over the tragic death of 3-year-old Indian girl Sherin Mathews, with many asking why her foster father did not wake his nurse wife when he knew that the toddler was chocking on milk and struggling to breathe.
Sherin, who had developmental issues and limited verbal communication skills, was confirmed dead by police in the Texan city of Richardson on Tuesday after over two weeks of searches. She was missing since October 7.
Wesley Mathews, 37, the Indian-American father of Sherin, told the police on Monday that his daughter choked while drinking milk and he removed her body from the house as he "believed she had died".
He had previously claimed that Sherin went missing after he sent her outside their home at around 3 am on October 7 as punishment for not drinking her milk.
Wesley, who works in an IT company, was re-arrested and charged with first-degree felony injury to a child due to a conflicting statement to police.
The arrest came a day after the body of a small child was found in a culvert near their home in suburban Dallas.
While the cause of her death was still being probed, the community and neighborhoods all across Texas are shocked, heartbroken, angry and mourning her death.
Wesley's wife Sini Mathews, who is a registered nurse and could have helped her, was reportedly sleeping in her room.
Anger, heartbreak in Richardson
"All these lies, first punishing the girl and putting her under tree, later choking her in a garage at 3am for not drinking milk, does not add up. It is heartbreaking and shocking," said a teary-eyed resident Diana.
"It will be another story soon, when police will find the actual cause of the death," she said.
Another neighbor Barabara Diamond Johnson asked why did not Wesley wake his nurse wife as Sherin choked to death, especially when she is a registered nurse at Children's hospital Dallas.
People who live in the neighborhood stopped their cars or their daily walks yesterday to see the ditch where Sherin's body was found. They pulled phones from their pockets to take photos of the spot.
Since Sunday, heavy hearts joined in song and prayer for the little girl found in the culvert.
"I think everybody is just ready for closure and we just want her to be at peace," said resident Gauthami Vemula.
The incident has left the shocked community with many unanswered questions.
Over the past two weeks, Sherin brought the whole community together in the suburb, as countless volunteers searched in and around Richardson hoping to find the toddler.
Sunday evening, many gathered for a prayer vigil a few hours after learning of the heartbreaking developments.
"A lot of people are in shock and anger and frustrated. Let's just try our best to breathe and regroup to focus our energy back on this little girl, this princess and find ways to seek her justice as best and as quick as possible," said vigil organizer Omair Siddiqi.
Neighbour Joe Keonine said on Tuesday that he never saw Sherin or her four-year-old sister outside. He said the neighbors are worried about what will happen to Sherin's sister.
Meanwhile, Richardson police are sharing new details into their ongoing investigation into the disappearance and death of Sherin.
Richardson Police Department sergeant Kevin Perlich told reporters that they had previously searched the area near the culvert where Mathews' body was found on Sunday but had come up empty-handed.
After heavy rainfall overnight Saturday, police returned to the area near East Spring Valley and South Bowser roads with cadaver dogs Sunday morning, knowing that rain tends to help intensify smells. An investigator and search team said the little girl's clothed body was then found "a ways into the culvert," according to Perlich.
Mother not cooperating
On Tuesday, Richardson police made a plea for Sini to agree to speak with the police. She has reportedly not cooperated with the police since the weekend of October 7.
Her attorney Kent Starr said she is "distraught" over the loss of her daughter and that she is trying to regain custody of her four-year-old biological daughter who was placed in foster care after her sister's disappearance.
Starr told NBC 5 on Tuesday that he has withdrawn and is no longer Sini's criminal defense attorney.
Wesley remained in the Richardson City Jail on Tuesday on $1 million bond. It is not known when he will be transferred to the Dallas County Jail.
Police are still investigating how long Sherin's body had been in the drainage ditch.
Wesley was charged on Monday with injury to a child, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
Sherin's body was positively identified yesterday and autopsy results are pending. It is unclear whether authorities believe Wesley's new account of what happened.
Police have unsuccessfully tried to get Sini to voluntarily answer questions, Perlich said.
Police spoke with her on Monday -- the day after Sherin's body was found but before authorities confirmed her identity.
Sini provided police with dental records, which were used to identify Sherin.
The police have said Sherin was small for her age and it was not unusual for her to eat in the middle of the night to gain weight. Sherin, who was about three-feet tall weighing just 10kgs, was malnourished when she was adopted last year and did not have the language skills of a typical 3-year-old.
The couple adopted Sherin from India last year.
According to the Child Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), the nodal body for adoption in India, timely follow-up reports were sent to it from Holt International, the authorized foreign adoption agency in US which was overseeing Sherin's case.
A top CARA official said that four reports were submitted to it between September 2016 and June 2017, indicating that the child was "comfortable", "secure" and "adjusting well".