When relatives hadn’t heard from the seven members of the Hernandez family for a few days, they asked authorities in Minnesota do a wellness check on Saturday night.
What police discovered shocked the community of Moorhead, a small city on the North Dakota border, to the core: all seven family members, ranging in age from 37 to 7, were lying dead in their beds in the duplex home.
“I went to the floor above and I entered into the room and all the family was together,” Eric Bravo Mejia, a pastor who knew the family and rushed to the home after getting a panicked phone call on Saturday, told Valley News Live.
“They were there dead. And I went to another room and there was the niece dead. And the uncle. Also dead. All dead. It was an impact that at this moment I can’t even understand. It’s something you can’t even explain, the impact it has in seeing them all there.”
Authorities initially said it wasn’t clear how the family perished, but they ruled out criminal activity and said there were no signs of obvious trauma. On Wednesday, Police Chief Shannon Monroe said investigators had found the cause of the shocking incident: carbon monoxide poisoning.
As reported by the Star Tribune, the family had lived in Minnesota for seven years after immigrating from Honduras. Their deaths were also reported by local Honduran outlets, which claimed the family was from San Francisco de Yojoa, a town about two hours south of San Pedro Sula.
The household included brothers Belin Hernandez, 37, and Eldor Hernandez Castillo, 32, as well as Marleny Pinto, 34, and her 19-year-old niece Mariela Guzman Pinto. There were also three children: Breylin Hernandez, 16; Mike Hernandez, 7; Marbely Hernandez, 5.
“These are terrific members of our community and this is a huge and tragic loss at the holiday season,” Monroe said.
While searching the home, investigators identified two potential sources of the poisoning: a furnace and a Kia van that were both in the garage. It was not immediately clear that the furnace was broken, which would cause poisoning, and the family had been found dressed “lightly,” indicating that the home was properly heated on the evening of their deaths.
And though the battery on the Kia was dead, the gas tank was not empty, which Monroe claims is usually the case when a car causes monoxide poisoning. Investigators are testing the victims’ blood to see if hydrogen cyanide, a chemical found from motor exhaust, is detected.
Though a carbon monoxide detector was found inside the house, it had been removed from the wall and was missing batteries.
According to Minnesota law, detectors must be installed by landlords within 10 feet of each room in multifamily buildings. Occupants of these homes, however, must ensure that monitors are maintained and functioning.
The Hernandez family had already endured extraordinary hardship leaving their home country, Mejia said. “They always tried to be very united together. My heart hurts because I love them so much. It’s so painful for me. They were a family. A family well loved,” he said.