Houston: The Richardson community in the US was mourning the death of Sherin Mathews, the three-year-old Indian girl whose foster father has claimed that she choked while drinking milk, with many people asking why he did not wake up his nurse wife when the child was struggling to breathe.
Sherin, who had developmental issues and limited verbal communication skills, was confirmed dead by US police on Tuesday after over two weeks of investigation. She was missing since October 7.
Wesley Mathews, 37, the father of Sherin, told the police that his daughter choked while drinking milk and he removed her body from the house as he “believed she had died”.
He was re-arrested and charged with first-degree felony injury to a child due to a conflicting statement to police.
The arrest came a day after the body of a small child was found in a culvert near their home in suburban Dallas.
While the cause of her death was still being probed, the community and neighbourhoods all across Texas are shocked, heartbroken, angry and mourning her death.
Wesley’s wife Sini Mathews, who is a registered nurse and could have helped her, was reportedly sleeping in her room.
“All these lies, first punishing the girl and putting her under tree, later choking her in a garage at 3am for not drinking milk, does not add up. It is heartbreaking and shocking,” said a teary-eyed resident Diana.
“It will be another story soon, when police will find the actual cause of the death,” she said.
Another neighbour Barabaa Diamond Johnson asked why did not Wesley Mathews wake his nurse wife as Sherin Mathews choked to death, especially when she is a registered nurse at Children’s hospital Dallas.
“I’m normally quiet about such things. But as a paediatric nurse and the mother of a child who aspirated, you don’t just say, ‘Oops they died’ You call 911! You run screaming for anyone to help you. I’m sorry, this is more fishy than leaving her by a tree. RIP sweet girl, no one will hurt you anymore,” Barbara said.
People who live in the neighbourhood stopped their cars or their daily walks on Tuesday to see the ditch where Sherin’s body was found. They pulled phones from their pockets to take photos of the spot.
Since Sunday, heavy hearts joined in song and prayer for the little girl found in the culvert.
“I think everybody is just ready for closure and we just want her to be at peace,” said resident Gauthami Vemula.
The incident has left the shocked community with many unanswered questions.
Over the past two weeks, Sherin brought the whole community together in the suburb, as countless volunteers searched in and around Richardson hoping to find her.
Sunday evening, many gathered for a prayer vigil a few hours after learning of the heartbreaking developments. It was not the first time music and prayer filled the air in the 900 block of Sunningdale in Richardson.
It was not the first vigil held underneath the tree that the girl’s father, Wesley, told police he last saw the girl standing near.
“A lot of people are in shock and anger and frustrated. Let’s just try our best to breathe and regroup to focus our energy back on this little girl, this princess and find ways to seek her justice as best and as quick as possible,” said vigil organiser Omair Siddiqi.
Meanwhile, Richardson police are sharing new details into their ongoing investigation into the disappearance and death of Sherin.
Richardson Police Department sergeant Kevin Perlich told reporters that they had previously searched the area near the culvert where Mathews’ body was found Sunday but had come up empty-handed.
After heavy rainfall overnight Saturday, police returned to the area near East Spring Valley and South Bowser roads with cadaver dogs Sunday morning, knowing that rain tends to help intensify smells. An investigator and search team said the little girl’s clothed body was then found “a ways into the culvert,” according to Perlich.
On Tuesday, Richardson police made a plea for Sini to agree to speak with the police. She has reportedly not cooperated with the police since the weekend of October 7.
Her attorney Kent Starr said she is “distraught” over the loss of her daughter and that she is trying to regain custody of her four-year-old biological daughter who was placed in foster care after her sister’s disappearance.
Starr told NBC 5 that he has withdrawn and is no longer Sini’s criminal defence attorney.
Additional information on the change in representation was not immediately available, and it was unclear whether she had retained a different attorney.
Wesley remained in the Richardson City Jail on $1-million bond. It is not known when he will be transferred to the Dallas County Jail.
Police are still investigating how long the girl’s body had been in the drainage ditch.
Wesley, who works in an IT company, was charged on Monday night with injury to a child, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
Sherin’s body was positively identified yesterday and autopsy results are pending. It is unclear whether authorities believe Wesley’s new account of what happened.
Police have unsuccessfully tried to get Sini to voluntarily answer questions, said Richardson police sergeant Kevin Perlich.
She works at Youngsters Medical Middle in Dallas, the hospital confirmed yesterday.
Police spoke with her on Monday – the day after Sherin’s body was found but before authorities confirmed her identity.
The girl’s body was found Sunday with the help of search dogs in the culvert near Spring Valley and South Bowser roads.
Police asked Sini to identify clothing found on the body.
She told police the clothing, which Perlich did not detail, looked like something Sherin might have worn. She also provided police with dental records, which were used to identify Sherin.
Attorney Kent Starr has said Sini was cooperating with the police. But his office confirmed yesterday that he was no longer representing her.
The police have said Sherin was small for her age and it wasn’t unusual for her to eat in the middle of the night to gain weight. Sherin, who was about three-feet tall weighing just 22 pounds (10 kgs), was malnourished when she was adopted last year and did not have the language skills of a typical three-year-old.
The couple adopted Sherin from India in 2016, according to media reports. The girl had been found in the bushes before authorities sent her to an orphanage.
Neighbour Joe Keonine said yesterday that he never saw Sherin or her four-year-old sister outside. But he would sometimes see their parents doing yard work or Sini outside in her scrubs, likely on her way to or from work.
He said the neighbours are worried about what will happen to Sherin’s sister. The girl is now in a foster care.