Police and residents of a southeast Georgia community are trying to determine how two teenagers could go missing without anyone reporting their disappearance to authorities.
Mary Crocker had not been seen in months, and her brother, Elwyn Crocker Jr., had not been seen since November 2016 — until December 20, 2018, when both bodies were discovered in their dad’s yard after police responded to a welfare check, reports Fox 5.
Effingham County authorities said 14-year-old Mary and Elwyn, who would be 16-year-old, were found buried behind their home in a woodsy area of their backyard.
Days before Christmas, police acted on a tip from a concerned individual who noticed Mary had been missing for weeks and feared she was dead, reports the Daily Beast.
During the visit, her family told authorities that the child lived with her biological mother in South Carolina. However, police searched the home after they were given conflicting information.
They found Mary’s body, but they also found the remains of her brother — who hadn’t been seen since he was 14.
Five people were arrested and charged with murder in connection with the children’s deaths, including Mary and Elwyn’s father, Elwyn Crocker, 49.
The father of three worked as a local Walmart Santa weeks before the grisly discovery. Elwyn’s third son, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is still alive.
His wife and the kids’ stepmother Candice Crocker, 33, step-grandmother Kim Wright, 50, the step-grandmother’s boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater, 55, and Crocker’s brother, Mark Wright, 31, also face first-degree cruelty charges and charges related to concealing a death.
Neighbors told the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department they often saw Mary alone and working tirelessly in her yard and expressed concern for the child.
Gary Bennett told WTOC:
“Other kids said at school, they could tell stuff was wrong with her hands. They were red. That was from being out in the yard out there most of the time working, doing stuff from the time she got off that bus until they would go in at night. Then she would go to school and kids would see her and ask what was wrong and she wouldn’t ever say anything. She wouldn’t open up to anybody.”
The family had been reported to Child Protective Services in the past, according to police. The children’s mother is expected to be homeless.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, Gena Sullivan, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“The biggest question some of us are asking is, how did the little boy go missing for two years and nobody identified that?”
“Since this case started, we’ve had so many people come up to us and sayI saw this, I saw that,’ but they didn’t call the police.”
Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told reporters in an emotional interview:
“I’ve been doing this 41 years, and a while ago I almost broke down in tears. It’s that bad. I cannot understand how you do children like this. It’s horrible.”
Sullivan told the Daily Beast the biggest lesson to learn from this tragedy is people should always report something that just “doesn’t seem right” to police.
She said there were “months upon months” where action could have been taken to protect the kids.