An autopsy determined today that a 4-year-old boy taken from a home on California Street on Mother's Day morning died from starvation and neglect.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's office said Robert Byrd, who had been in the care of an uncle and aunt, was 3 feet, 1 inch tall, weighed 24 pounds, and his emaciated body showed extensive bruising. He was found in an unresponsive state by ambulance paramedics called to the home. The death is classified a homicide.
"They starved my son," a crying Anthony Byrd, 31, told family members gathered at his east side home after he identified his son's body at the medical examiner's office.
Byrd lost custody of his sons, Robert and Anthony Jr., 6, and 12-year-old daughter Anttalayzeaha or "LayLay," when he went to prison in 2009 for felonious assault. When released nine months later, he said he was unable to regain custody. He said the boys' mother died in 2007 from a brain aneurysm.
"They kept changing addresses and phone numbers and wouldn't let me see my sons," Byrd said about Matilda and Randy Gardner, whom Highland Park Police have held since Sunday for questioning. "I was trying to be an adult about it, but they kept playing me."
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said no decision on whether to charge the Gardners is expected today.
"Nobody knew what was going on there," said Michelle Burnett, Anthony Byrd's sister, who was among a crowd of relatives comforting her brother this afternoon.
Carter Mayberry said he was tending his front lawn on Mother's Day's sunny morning when an ambulance pulled up to the house two doors down from his home on California Street. He said a paramedic carried out a lifeless, "skeleton-looking" child.
"My heart sank," Mayberry, 72, said today.
"I raised four of my own, and when I saw that technician carrying that little thing like a newborn in his arms … you wonder what happened here," Carter said.
The couple moved into the house three or four months ago, Carter said, adding he only saw the man and woman when they arrived and departed. He's not sure he ever saw the 4-year-old.
The home appears to have fallen into recent disrepair. Homes on both sides are well-kept and neat, but the house that was still surrounded today with yellow police crime scene barrier tape, had chipping paint and an unkempt backyard. A couple of small potted flowers were on the front porch with several upholstered seats that appeared to have come from a minivan. Two satellite television receiving dishes were affixed to the porch roof.
"If I had known something was going on, I certainly would have called for help," Carter said.
The older brother and four children belonging to the Gardners were taken by Wayne County Child Protective Services workers, according to police. Byrd said his daughter is in the care of another relative.