Two children whose bodies were found last week in a freezer at their mother’s Detroit town home died from “multiple blunt trauma,” the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office tells PEOPLE.
Ryan Bridges, a spokesman for the office, says in the cases of Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Gage Berry – both now classified as homicides – Stephen’s cause of death included “thermal injuries” after he was placed in the freezer.
A court petition to end parental custody adds to the horror that was discovered last Tuesday when workers showed up to evict Mitchelle Blair, 35, from her residence in a low-income housing complex and encountered the bodies of two of her four children.
“Their mother, Mitchelle Blair, tortured Stephen for approximately two weeks prior to his death by tying a belt around his neck, throwing hot water on him while in the shower and putting a plastic bag over his head,” says the petition, summarizing an interview with Blair’s surviving 17-year-old daughter, MLive reports.
Stephen would have been 9 when he died on Aug. 30, 2012, his half-sister said. And Stoni, who died on May 25, 2013, would have been 13 when their mother strangled her with a T-shirt and suffocated her with a plastic bag, according to the petition.
Blair forced the eldest daughter to place Stoni’s body in the freezer on top of her brother’s, which had been wrapped in a blanket and placed there nearly nine months earlier, the petition states.
The petition and a Detroit police investigator’s report filed Thursday in Wayne County Juvenile Court say the children endured abuse including beatings with hot irons, wood planks and extension cords, according to The Detroit News. Blair also reportedly starved Stoni before strangling her to death.
Blair is being held in the Wayne County jail on a $1 million bond after her arraignment Thursday on five child-abuse related charges. Prosecutors said other charges are pending, NBC News reports.
“A not-guilty plea was entered on Blair’s behalf,” The Detroit News reports.
Her remaining two children, the 17-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, are now living with their great-aunt Angela Gordon, a former Detroit police child abuse investigator who says there’s a need to understand what enabled the abuse of the children to continue, Gordon told The Detroit News.
Gordon, who retired eight years ago after 26 years on the police force, said she she “knew there had been some abuse going on, but not at that level.” Gordon cared for Blair’s children for several years, she said, but Blair cut off contact after Gordon gave her an ultimatum: “I told her she needed to start taking care of her family.”
Allegations of abuse caused Child Protective Services workers to contact Blair in September 2002 and February 2005, and Blair was referred to counseling and other services after the abuse claims were “substantiated,” according to the juvenile court petition.
Why Gordon didn’t react to signs of abuse by Blair earlier is “a valid question,” Gordon said. “I would ask that myself.”
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