The twin boys were just 6 years old but they'd already known a lifetime of trouble when they came to live with Bobbie Bishop.
Neurological problems at birth left the brothers unable to crawl and sit without extensive physical therapy. Their mother, homeless when they were born, would be sentenced shortly after to prison in Montana for forgery.
Placed in protective custody in Washington state at 2 months old, they would go to live with their grandmother, though court documents show she had little means of support. She and the boys would be homeless at times over the next three years.
So Bishop, a friend of the twins' mother, seemed like a godsend when she sought custody in October after the grandmother had left her the children saying she couldn't take them anymore.
On her custody application, Bishop listed her only income as Social Security disability payments but told Otter Tail County authorities she could care for the boys, writing, "I love them like they were my own." On a question asking about mental and physical health, she wrote, "we are all doing well mentally and physically."
Six months later, one of the boys would be dead, brought to a Fergus Falls hospital in early April battered and unresponsive, his body covered with the scabs and scars of past beatings. He had injuries consistent with being scalded and was suffering from flesh-eating bacteria, investigators said.
• Murder charges: 6-year-old was duct-taped to wall, had injuries from head to toe
Bishop and her companion Walter Henry Wynhoff were charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and malicious punishment in the boy's death. Bishop is due for a court appearance Wednesday.
As the legal process churns, many of the adults charged with protecting the boys are still struggling to explain how and why these terrible things happened.
'Like a nightmare'
Bobbie Bishop, 41, was involved in the boys' lives since they were born in 2012. She is not related to them, but was a friend of the family in Washington state. A family member said the boy who died was named by Bishop at birth.
MPR News is not naming the boy because doing so could reveal the identity of his brother, who remains in the care of social services.
There are many questions about what happened between the boy's birth and death. What's known comes from court records in several states and an interview with a Washington woman who is related to the boys and is a longtime friend of Bishop.
Misty Truitt, the twins' biological mother, was homeless at the time they were born according to the family member.
Records show that in September 2012, Truitt was sentenced to five years in prison in Montana on forgery charges. Bishop helped care for the twins after they were born and a Facebook photo of her holding one of the babies has the caption, "my new twin son ****** and I, 6 days old."
When they were about 2 months old, court documents show the boys were placed in the care of the state of Washington's child and family protective services department and cared for by a relative.
"I raised the babies. I took very good care of them. I just never should have let them go. I should have just adopted them, honestly," recalled Samantha Hill, a second cousin of Misty Truitt who cared for the twins for two years while they were under state protection.
Hill says the boys needed extensive therapy to learn to crawl and sit because of their neurological problems. Hill described them as very active but well behaved.
In 2014, the state of Washington granted custody to the boys' grandmother, though court documents show she claimed no income and received $189 a month in food stamps.
Over the next three years, Hill said, the grandmother and the boys were at times homeless. At one point, during a visit to her home, the boys acted out in a way that made her suspect abuse. Hill said she asked Washington state's child and family services to investigate, but the boys were returned to the grandmother.
A Washington state official said the agency cannot release any information about investigations.
Hill said Bishop, who was by then living in Minnesota, kept offering to care for the boys.
"She has been obsessed with them since her and Misty started talking about raising them together. She has wanted to be a part of their lives and as far as I knew she wanted to be their mother," said Hill.
Last summer, Hill said she loaned $50 to the grandmother for gas when she wanted to take the boys to Minnesota and leave them with Bishop, who shared a home with Wynhoff in Fergus Falls.
"I had no indication whatsoever that she was capable of doing the things that they said she did. She was the godmother to my children. I have three children of my own, 21, 18 and 16 years old and she was around all of them," said Hill who has known Bishop since age 12.
"We were like sisters," she said. "It's just crazy to even believe that this even happened. It's like a nightmare that I want to wake up from."
Hill considered Bishop her best friend, although the relationship was strained at times.
"Our relationship honestly started falling when we were about 19. I got pregnant with my daughter and she got pregnant at the same time but she lost her child and was told she couldn't have any more children at that time," said Hill who remembers Bishop was devastated.
Heavy caseloads, not enough guardians
Bishop told investigators that a March custody hearing did not go well. Norma Burland, the grandmother who lives in Montana, filed court documents in April agreeing to a one-year temporary transfer of custody; the case was ongoing when Bishop was arrested.
It's unclear if anyone knew of the abuse as the custody case moved through the courts over several months.
Judges can appoint a guardian to look out for the interest of children in custody cases, but an official with the guardian ad litem program said judges rarely make the appointment unless there are concerns of abuse raised in the court proceedings.
Judges are required to appoint a guardian in a range of cases related to child protection where abuse is investigated, and have authority to appoint a guardian in other cases. But retired Minnesota Judge Terrence Conkel said it's a tough call.
"Judges throughout the state just know that oftentimes even though they want to order it, they're not going to get a guardian because there's just no one available because of the workloads the guardians have on all of these mandatory cases," said Conkel, who now is on the board of directors for the guardian ad litem program.
A recent state legislative auditor's report found guardians are not appointed even in some mandatory cases.
"Several judges told us they no longer request guardians for family court cases-even when the appointment is required-because they know the GAL Program does not have enough guardians ad litem to fulfill the request," said the March report, which recommended stronger oversight of the program by its board of directors.
The report also recommended the program and the Legislature work to better define which cases should have a guardian appointed and if the program has adequate resources.
In 2016 there were more than 75,000 child maltreatment reports in Minnesota and nearly 40,000 alleged victims according to the state Department of Human Services.
Broken tooth, beaten, duct-taped to the wall
Photos on Bishop's Facebook page show the boys smiling as they played at a lake and a playground last fall. But Bishop told police investigators that when the 5-year-old boys came to Minnesota in August "they were violent and did weird things." Bishop said she punished them by making them stand in a corner or spanking them.
Court documents indicate Bishop told police the behavior and punishment escalated early this year when she used a belt to punish the boys and restrained them with duct tape.
She told investigators on the day before he died she beat the child and knew she hit him too hard. She also told police she knew she should have taken the boy for medical treatment but, "I didn't want them to take him away from me."
According to the complaint, Wynhoff told police Bishop asked him to discipline the child: "I've never been so mad at a child before and I slapped him," Wynhoff told investigators.
Bishop told police she went to the boy's room, where she found him groggy with slurred speech. He handed her a broken tooth. She saw a broken piece of one-by-one-inch board next to the bed. Police later found that board that had a substance on it that tested positive for blood.
Early the next morning, Bishop brought the boy to the emergency room when she found him in his bed, not breathing.
Hill and other family members have said there were multiple calls to child protective services in Minnesota to report Bishop was harming the children. One person who reportedly made several calls did not respond to a message seeking confirmation.
Otter Tail County Human Services would only say there is an active investigation. It's unclear if that investigation started before or after the boy died.
Doug Nadvornick at Spokane Public Radio contributed to this report.