BLACKSTONE — Investigators found the remains of three infants inside a squalid, vermin-infested home here on Thursday, two weeks after child welfare officials removed four children from the same address to protect them from suspected abuse or neglect, authorities said.
A woman identified as Erika Murray, a 31-year-old resident of the house, was arrested Thursday night and will be arraigned Friday on a witness intimidation charge, as well as additional unspecified charges stemming from living conditions in the residence, police and prosecutors said.
Authorities would not say whether Murray is related to any of the children who had been living in the house.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. told reporters near the condemned home at 23 St. Paul St. that the genders and ages of the deceased infants have not been determined, nor have the causes of their deaths. He refused to say if authorities knew the whereabouts of the parents on Thursday evening. He also said that no one has been charged with committing a homicide.
“What we know is that we have three infants that have been found deceased at this residence,” Early said. “The house is filled with vermin. We have flies, we have bugs. We have used diapers, in some areas as much as a foot-and-a-half to two feet high.
“The house is in deplorable condition.”
He said police were first called to the residence, which is within walking distance of police and fire headquarters on the same street, about two weeks ago after a child living in the home told a neighbor that one of the other children had been crying.
The crying child, who is 6 months old, was found covered in feces, Early said, leading the neighbor to call police.
Early said four children, including the 6-month-old, a 3-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 13-year-old, were then taken from the home by the state Department of Children and Families. He did not explain the lag between the children being taken from the home and Thursday’s chilling discovery.
Early’s office said State Police detectives arrived at the home on Wednesday night and found the remains during their investigation. Early said during the briefing Thursday that officials were continuing to search for additional remains and expected to be working at the home for the next few days.
In a statement, Cayenne Isaksen, a DCF spokeswoman, said the agency had no previous contact with the family until two weeks ago.
“The children are currently in the custody of the Department of Children and Families,” she said. “DCF has never had an open case with this family and learned about this situation through a 51A report,’’ which details suspected abuse or neglect of a child.
Isaksen said that once DCF received the report, the agency notified the district attorney’s office and that DCF is “working in collaboration with law enforcement to investigate the report.”
It was not immediately clear on Thursday night whether the four children in DCF custody were related to each other or to the deceased infants, or even how many adults had been living in the residence.
“We have to ascertain who was living in the house” as part of the investigation, Early said.
Timothy Connolly, a spokesman for Early, also declined to comment when asked about the parents of the children but said officials expect to provide an update on the case on Friday.
Blackstone is south of Worcester, near Rhode Island. Neighbors on the leafy street listened in stunned silence as Early laid out the details of the discovery. The residents later expressed shock and outrage.
“It’s deplorable,” said Marilynn Soucy, 68. “It’s horrible, and I hope somebody suffers for it. I can’t picture hurting a child.”
She said before Early’s briefing that she thought a woman and her boyfriend lived in the home with a girl and boy. Soucy said she would often see the boy playing outside.
“He always had a red shirt on,” she said.
When state welfare officials took custody of the children, the boy “was in the car of DCF and did not want to come out,” she said. “He was happy to be in there.”
Soucy added that on the same day that DCF took custody of the children, she saw the woman who lived in the home being led to the police station. Soucy said the woman did not appear distressed and was “just walking normal.”
Investigators in protective body gear were seen on Thursday coming and going from the house, which was shielded by two blue tents set up in the street.
Authorities had set up large spotlights to allow them to work throughout the night.
Another neighborhood resident, Denise Haughn, 49, was shocked even before Early confirmed the gruesome discovery, as the police presence grew steadily heavier during the day and rumors swirled about children living in awful conditions.
“This is the worst thing that’s ever happened in town, that I know of, in recent history,” Haughn said. “This is beyond crazy.”
Another neighbor, Dave Villandry, 38, struggled to contain his emotions after Early announced that three infants had been found dead.
“That’s just absolutely horrifying,” he said, adding that he smelled a foul odor whenever he walked by the house. “This is brutal. Nothing like this ever happens around here. This is a quiet little town. Are you kidding me? Three dead babies?”