US

‘Tragic Accident:’ Missing 3-Year-Old Found Dead in Minivan

By Zachary Stieber

A missing Tennessee child was found dead inside of a minivan in what authorities are describing as a “tragic accident.”

Police officers rushed to a house in Morristown on June 28 after receiving a report about a missing child. Officers searched the premises and found the child’s body inside of a 2002 minivan that was parked outside the house.

The child was said to have exited the house around 4 p.m. His body was found about six hours later.

“The mother and father had gone to work, and the grandmother had the children. At bedtime she goes to put the children to bed, and he’s not there. So she immediately contacts the mother, immediately contacts the police… and that’s when we respond,” Administrative Deputy Chief Michelle Jones told WLTV.

“The van had been parked on the property, and some of the grass had grown around it, so that let investigators know that this child wasn’t left by someone in the van. It appears that the child actually got himself into the van and was then simply unable to get out.”

Officers said that the child likely entered the van by opening the unlocked passenger door but was unable to find his way out after getting inside and closing the door, reported WATE.

Jones told the outlet that people should take caution regarding any vehicles or other items that children could gain access to and get stuck inside.

“If it’s on the property, if it’s accessible to the child in any way, make sure that all of the doors are locked, and when it’s appropriate, to teach a child how to unlock an open door from the inside,” Jones said.

No charges have been filed and it did not appear that any would be filed.

“There’s nothing that we found so far that points to any kind of criminal activity and it does simply seem to be a tragic event in this family’s life,” Jones said, reported WBIR.

“This is an ongoing investigation, but at this time it appears to be a tragic accident,” added Natalie Cole with the Morristown Police Department in an email.

Police said a chaplain was sent to meet with the family of the boy and the officers who found him.

The child was not identified.

police line
A police line in a file photo. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kids in Hot Cars

Fifty-two children died from heatstroke in 2018, according to the Kids and Cars website. From 1990 to 2018, 889 children died from heatstroke.

According to the No Heat Stroke organization, 16 child vehicular heatstroke deaths have taken place so far this year.

In an examination of the causes of the deaths conducted by the group, it was found that 54 percent of the deaths stemmed from a caregiver forgetting the child. Another 26 percent of deaths came after a child gained access to the car on their own, while about 19 percent of the deaths came after they were knowingly left by a caregiver in the vehicle.

The U.S. National Safety Council said that caregivers can be aware of the deaths and take action.

“Parents and caregivers can act immediately to end these deaths. Even on relatively mild days, temperatures inside vehicles still can reach life-threatening levels in minutes, and cracking the window doesn’t help,” the council stated on its website.

“The National Safety Council advises parents and caregivers to stick to a routine and avoid distractions to reduce the risk of forgetting a child. Keep car doors locked so children cannot gain access, and teach them that cars are not play areas. Place a purse, briefcase or even a left shoe in the back seat to force you to take one last glance.”

Jan Null, a San Jose State professor and former meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told SFGate that the temperatures inside vehicles heat up rapidly, with the air rising about 19 degrees over whatever the outside temperature is in the first 10 minutes and rising another 10 degrees in the next 10 minutes.

What’s more, Null said the bodies of small children heat up three to five times faster compared to adults. “So, while you and I could be in a car that’s, say, 109 degrees, an infant or small child would be to the point of entering heat stroke,” he said.