TEXAS -- A 15-year-old boy who had been living with his 8-year-old brother's corpse for nearly a year couldn't take it anymore, and called 911 for help this weekend. That set into motion a chain of events for officials to determine how his little brother died, and to take the children's mother and her boyfriend into custody.
Gloria Y. Williams, 35, is charged with injury to a child by omission, failure to provide medical care and failure to provide adequate supervision, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.
Brian W. Coulter, 31, is charged with murder in connection with the child's death. Gonzalez said the boy was 8 years old when he died sometime in 2020.
The teen had been fending for himself while caring for two younger brothers, getting food from neighbors and protecting the family's dark secret.
The Harris County Sheriff's Office said the boy, living at the CityParc II at West Oaks Apartments, called 911 on Sunday and said his brother had been dead in the room next to his. He also told deputies that his mom hasn't been back in months, leaving him and his two other brothers, ages 7 and 10, alone.
On Tuesday, the medical examiner's ruled the 8-year-old's manner of death was homicide, caused by multiple blunt force injuries.
KTRK-TV learned the mother and her boyfriend lived in an apartment just 15 minutes away.
The couple was taken into custody again on Tuesday afternoon.
Neighbors told KTRK-TV that the 15-year-old relied on them for food. Erica Chapman was one of the residents who noticed something was wrong, and she started giving him food six months ago.
Chapman said the teen wouldn't accept cooked meals. He would only take packaged snacks, fruit and pizza.
Another neighbor, Trevor Thompson, said he would also provide the teen with food. He described the teen as paranoid and said he was afraid of getting poisoned, which is why he would only accept certain food.
"A few times I noticed the lights weren't on, and it was quiet upstairs, so I figured there was trouble because the parents haven't been there in a while," Thompson said. "One day, he came here and knocked on the door and asked if he could use the charger, and we built a bond from there. I started offering him food because I knew he needed more than just a charger."
What both Thompson and Chapman were unaware of was the secrets and horror happening inside the apartment. They didn't even know there were two other brothers living there.
Chapman thinks the 15-year-old kept his other two brothers a secret out of fear.
Both neighbors said they never called authorities because they didn't understand the magnitude of the situation. They said the 15-year-old kept to himself and was quiet and didn't answer many questions.
"I didn't want to push him away by asking questions because I knew he was starving and needed food," Chapman said.
Alief ISD confirmed to KTRK-TV that in 2019 and 2020, the school district filed truancy papers against the mother. Two of her children apparently failed to show up to school. District officials said the kids were last enrolled in May of 2020. Officials were not immediately certain how many of the children were students in the district. The pandemic has made matters worse for vulnerable children, according to Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk.
"It was very easy for these kids to fall through the cracks," Sanborn said. "Texas has always relied on teachers to be that line of first defense for child abuse and these kids never got to that place where a teacher could identify what was going on with them, or begin an investigation, or alert CPS or others to what was happening."
According to the sheriff's office, all three boys were taken to the hospital, where doctors said they were malnourished with injuries. The 7-year-old had facial fractures, sources said.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is seeking emergency custody of the three boys. A spokeswoman confirmed CPS has a history with the family but there was no active investigation at the time they were found.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the boy who was murdered was 9 years old. We have updated our story to reflect he was 8 years old at the time of his death that occurred some time in 2020, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.