A pair of Texas parents are behind bars after their 18-month-old toddler was found dead in his bedroom, which allegedly contained a makeshift cage for him.
Daniel David Dennis, 25, and Erin Michelle Dennis, 23, were charged with two counts of child abandonment and endangerment related to their son’s death, online jail records show.
On Dec. 14, law enforcement was dispatched to the couple’s Murchison, Texas home in an unincorporated section of Henderson County for reports of an unresponsive infant. The couple told responding deputies that Erin Daniels found the 18-month-old dead in the child’s bedroom.
The child, David Dennis, was found in a 97 degree bedroom of the home and pronounced dead on-scene. The child’s reported temperature was 103 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Longview, Texas television station KETK-TV.
A white space heater was found to be running in the room as well, which Erin Dennis later told law enforcement had been done to improve the toddler’s circulation.
A makeshift cage — an upside-down crib with the mattress underneath, surrounded by a pet fence — human feces on the wall and dirty diapers on the floor were all visible in the room, which the 18-month old shared with his 2-year old brother, authorities said.
In their 4-year-old sister’s room, which locked from the outside, a child’s handprints were visible in suspected human waste on the walls, county authorities said. Erin Dennis described the girl as an “escape artist.”
Unsecured firearms were also located inside the couple’s bedroom, according to a copy of the case’s arrest affidavit.
“It is one of the most horrific cases that I have seen as the sitting sheriff,” Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse told media. “This is one of the worst cases we’ve seen. It’s horrible that we didn’t know about the actual situation going on in the house.”
Emergency responders, including police, firefighters and medical personnel dispatched to the home were traumatized, he said.
“They also got to live with what they saw for the rest of their lives,” Hillhouse added. “It was just a horrible situation.”
Under questioning, Erin Daniels told investigators that she’d last checked on her son around midnight the night before.
“The mother said she awoke Tuesday morning to play video games,” a Henderson County Sheriff’s Office press release stated. “She then checked on the three children and found the 18-month-old dead.”
The couple’s other children showed signs of physical abuse during medical examination by hospital staff, KLTV reported, and are currently in custody of Child Protective Services.
County authorities said the Texas parents could face additional charges pending further investigation and the results of a medical examiner’s review of the couple’s 18-month-old child.
“They want to wait on toxicology before making their final ruling,” Hillhouse said. “We have not charged them with the death of the child at this time, but we will.”
A Henderson County district judge ordered the Texas parents be held on a $1 million bond, according to online court records.
It’s unclear if either Daniel or Erin Dennis has retained legal representation; neither appears to have past criminal records.
No further information was released by officials regarding the open case this week. The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t immediately available for comment.