Three boys who suffocated in a car trunk last month were trapped alive for at least 13 hours, slowly succumbing while police searched their neighborhood, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The boys, ages 5, 6 and 11, died 13 to 33 hours after they climbed into the trunk on June 22, the Camden County prosecutor's office said, citing part of an autopsy report. The deaths were ruled accidental.
Relatives searched for the boys for three hours and then called authorities. A two-day search ended June 24 when the father of one of the boys found them dead in the car trunk, just a few feet from where they had been playing.
Several experts said last month that it was likely that the boys passed out within an hour or two of becoming trapped in the trunk.
The question of when Anibal Cruz, Jesstin Pagan and Daniel Agosto died is crucial in the case, in part because of the possibility of lawsuits against officials. If the boys were dead by the time police were called to the neighborhood in this impoverished city, it may decrease the families' chances of success in a lawsuit.
So far, no legal complaints have been filed, and the mother of one of the boys said Tuesday that the report's findings does not mean she will sue.
"I don't think me and my husband want to go through that. Suing anybody or getting a lawyer isn't going to help us bring him back," Iraida Agosto said.
A lawyer for Anibal Cruz's family, however, said responsibility for the deaths is now "squarely on the shoulders of the police."
"I think the numbers speak for themselves," Peter M. Villari told the New York Times. "They were certainly alive when the police arrived and certainly well after the search started."
Villari did not return a call seeking additional comment Tuesday.
Villari said last month that he was hired by Anibal's mother, Elba Cruz, in part to see if police or anyone else may have been responsible for the deaths. He said at the time that it was not clear whether she might sue.
A report from prosecutors on issues including why searchers never looked in the car trunk is due next week.
"It would be inappropriate to comment on other aspects of the case until we have established a clear and complete picture of the events and discussed our findings with the families," Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said in a written statement Tuesday.