Police on Monday were waiting for confirmation that a body found over the weekend was that of a 3-year-old girl who disappeared from her suburban Dallas home earlier this month.
Sgt. Kevin Perlich, a Richardson police spokesman, said investigators don't have reason to believe the body found Sunday is not that of Sherin Mathews, but they're still waiting for the medical examiner's office to confirm it and to determine a cause of death.
Sherin, who was adopted from India last year, was reported missing by her father, Wesley Mathews, on Oct. 7. He told police that he had ordered her to stand near a tree outside of their home at around 3 a.m. as punishment for not drinking her milk, and that she was gone when he went to check on her about 15 minutes later. Authorities say he waited five hours to report her missing.
Mathews, 37, is charged with abandoning or endangering a child and is free on bond. No additional charges had been filed as of Monday afternoon. According to police, Mathews said the girl was developmentally disabled and malnourished when he and his wife adopted her, and that they had to put her on a special diet that included feeding her whenever she was awake, including in the middle of the night, to help her gain weight.
He and his wife, Sini Mathews, attended a court hearing Monday to determine whether they could regain custody of their 4-year-old biological daughter, who was placed in protective custody after her sister went missing. The judge postponed the hearing until Nov. 13 to give Wesley Mathews time to hire a civil attorney, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services. The girl will remain in foster care at least until that hearing or until a judge orders a change in custody.
"We do have the names of some relatives who have expressed interest in taking care of her," Gonzales said. "We can begin looking into those relatives, but it is entirely up to the judge where she is placed."
Authorities using dogs to search for Sherin found the remains Sunday in a drainage tunnel about a half-mile from the family's home.
Rafael De La Garza, an attorney for Wesley Mathews, told The Dallas Morning News after Monday's hearing that his client was "mourning the death of his child," but he didn't address the criminal charges. De La Garza did not immediately reply to a phone message from The Associated Press.
Wesley Mathews told police that after doing an initial search after realizing his daughter was missing, he went inside and did laundry while waiting for her to come home or for daylight so that he could continue searching.
Police said they believe Sini Mathews was sleeping when the girl went missing and was unaware of the alleged punishment.
Kent Starr, an attorney for Sini Mathews, said that as part of Wesley Mathews' bond agreement, the couple cannot live together. Starr told the Dallas Morning News that his client is seeking to regain custody of her other daughter and that she has cooperated with the police in trying to help identify Sherin's body.
Police said one of their searches on Sunday led them to the open field less than half a mile from the Mathews home, where search dogs helped find the body inside a culvert that runs under East Spring Valley Road near South Bowser Road.
The field is located in a neighborhood and surrounded by homes.
William Prussack, who lives in a townhome that overlooks the field, said he walks it every day with his dogs and never noticed any sign of the missing toddler.
"It's 150 yards from my driveway. We're absolutely devastated right now," Prussack said.
He and other neighbors watched crime scene investigators, some in hazardous materials style suits, inch their way across the field looking for evidence. Police have not said what specifically brought them to this site, other than to say continuous searching for more than two weeks helped lead them to the body.
"This can happen anywhere now. I never would have dreamed anything like this would have happened by my home," said Prussack. "To know that something this evil lurks so close to your backyard, you just can't help but wonder, it's like death knocking at your door."
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