3 missing N.J. boys found dead in trunk of car

2 days of searching end steps from child's home

June 25, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - The father of one of three Camden, N.J., boys missing since Wednesday discovered his son and two friends dead in the trunk of a car last night in the yard where they were last seen alive.

For two days, authorities from two states had scoured the Cramer Hill section of Camden and the banks of the Delaware River for Anibal "Juni" Cruz, 11; Daniel "Danny" Agosto, 6; and Jesstin "Manny" Pagan, 5.

Relatives, neighbors and people who had never met the boys joined the search.

But it abruptly ended about 7 p.m., when David Agosto opened the door of a maroon Toyota Camry parked inside Cruz's yard and popped the trunk as a TV cameras recorded the action.

He looked inside and recoiled in horror, hopping away, crying, hitting a wall, jumping, sitting on the ground. He was later taken away by ambulance, moaning.

Unanswered questions

It was not immediately clear what prompted Agosto to open the trunk of the Camry. It also was not known exactly how the boys got in the car or how they died.

Anibal, Daniel and Jesstin were last seen in the yard of the house about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

According to the National Weather Service, it was 80 degrees at 5 p.m. and 70 degrees at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with rain and scattered thunderstorms that might have muffled any noise from boys trapped inside the trunk of a car.

After the discovery, neighbors stood on the sidewalk, four and five deep, some crying and hugging each other.

Four helicopters whirred overhead, and police blocked off the street.

Glory Valez, 23, said that Jesstin's parents came late to the scene, apparently not having heard what had happened. They pulled up at a nearby intersection, got out of the car, and tried to wade into the crowd to get closer.

Police at the corner told them the news. Valez said the mother collapsed and police took the parents away.

Valez said she knew Anibal, whom she called a quiet but friendly boy, and her family went to the parents' house to offer their help.

She was passing out fliers when her brother, who was close enough to see what was happening, called and told her the boys had been found.

Wilfredo Ruiz, 46, Valez's father, spoke to someone who was there when the trunk was opened.

`Horrible thing'

The man told Ruiz, "It was the most horrible thing I've seen in my life. I don't ever want to see anything like that again."

Many questioned whether the search was really thorough if a car that had sat untouched for a year apparently had not been included.

"It's really a shame. That should never happen," said John DiPompo, 59, who lives a block from where the boys were discovered.

"It makes me mad. The neighbors are all up in arms that they didn't search the car first."

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