Authorities: Carbon monoxide caused deaths of 7 in Minnesota

Two people pray in front of a house.
Two friends of seven people whose bodies were found in a Moorhead, Minn., home comfort each other next to seven wreaths that were left outside the residence on Monday.
Dave Kolpack | AP Photo file

Updated: 5:53 p.m.

Seven members of an immigrant family from Honduras whose bodies were found inside a Moorhead, Minn., home last weekend died of carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said Wednesday.

Relatives of the family discovered the victims Saturday night in a home in south Moorhead when they went to check on them after not hearing from them. Neighbors said the children were last seen Friday.

Officials with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul examined blood samples to determine cause of death. Those tests showed a lethal level of carbon monoxide, authorities said.

Police Chief Shannon Monroe said the carbon monoxide came from either the home's furnace or a van in the garage and that the home didn’t have a working carbon monoxide detector.

Technicians couldn't find a defect in the furnace that would have sent carbon monoxide into the home. Moore said further tests were being done to determine whether the victims had hydrogen cyanide in their blood, which would point to the van, and those tests might take up to eight weeks.

Investigators found that a carbon monoxide detector in the garage had been removed and replaced with a smoke-only detector. Monroe said the van had a half-tank of gas and a dead battery. Asked about the significance, the chief said that in cases of intentional carbon monoxide exposure, vehicles are usually found with empty gas tanks.

“We have not found anything indicating any kind of criminal activity,” Monroe said at a news conference. He said the evidence pointed to an accident.

The family members were identified earlier as Belin Hernandez, 37; Marleny Pinto, 34; Eldor Hernandez Castillo, 32; Mariela Guzman Pinto, 19; Breylin Hernandez, 16; Mike Hernandez, 7, and Marbely Hernandez, 5. They all lived together in the home, police said.

Family members who gathered at the house Monday to share stories described their loved ones as happy people who were relieved to get away from turmoil in Honduras. They had been in the United States between three and eight years, a family translator said.

Monroe and Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson met earlier this week with surviving family members.

"They love this community, they were really pleased with the outpouring of support that they've seen so far," said Monroe. "Know that these are terrific members of our community and this is a huge and tragic loss at a holiday season."

Moorhead is on the Minnesota border next to Fargo, N.D., in a metropolitan area of about 230,000 people.

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