Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Kills Seven From Ages 5 to 37 in Immigrant Family

Accidental carbon monoxide poisoning killed seven from ages 5 to 37 in an immigrant Honduran family in Minnesota last weekend, authorities said Wednesday.

Officers with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office in St. Paul analyzed blood samples from the family to find the cause of death. The tests revealed a deadly level of carbon monoxide, authorities said.

The victims were found Saturday night in a home in south Moorhead by relatives who checked the house after not hearing from them. Police are still trying to figure out a time frame for the deaths but said the three children who live there did not attend school Friday.

The family members were identified as Belin Hernandez, 37; Marleny Pinto, 34; Eldor Hernandez Castillo, 32; Mariela, Guzman Pinto, 19; Breylin Hernandez, 16; Mike Hernandez, 7, and Marbely Hernadez, 5. Authorities said they lived together.

Belin Hernandez and Marleny Pinto were parents to Breylin, Mike, and Marbely, relatives of the family said. They also said Eldor Hernandez Castillo was Belin's brother and Mariela Gusman Pinto was Marleny's niece.

"There's no indication of any kind of criminal activity," Police Chief Shannon Monroe said. "Unless we find something else yet later in the investigation, right now it's pointing toward some type of accidental situation."

Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Moorhead, Immigrant Family
A twin home is shown in Moorhead, Minn., Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Authorities say the bodies of seven people were discovered inside the home, killed by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Police said the victims included four adults and three children. David Kolpack/AP Photo

Monroe said the carbon monoxide came from either the home's furnace or a van in the garage. 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. The chief said that in cases of intentional carbon monoxide exposure, vehicles are usually found with empty gas tanks.

The two-story twin home, which authorities said was between 5 and 7 years old, did not have a basement and all the bedrooms were upstairs. The furnace was in a separate room inside the garage.

Monroe said the victims were wearing light clothing, indicating the heat had been working. By the time first responders arrived, the temperature was 54 degrees (12 degrees Celsius) in the house and only the furnace fan was on.

Five of the victims were found in their beds. Belin Hernandez and Marleny Pinto were on the floor in the bedroom area.

"It would appear to us possibly that the parents were still awake when this happened," Monroe said.

Residents in the adjoining unit had no signs of carbon monoxide sickness, 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.

"They love this community," Monroe said of the surviving family members. "They are very pleased with the outpouring of support they've seen so far. Just 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, North Dakota, in a metropolitan area of about 230,000 people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Accidental Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Moorhead, Immigrant Family
Investigators discovered that a carbon monoxide detector in the garage of the immigrant family accidentally killed was replaced with a smoke-only detector. In this photo is a low-angle view of First Alert smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector installed on a ceiling in San Ramon, California, on Feb. 6, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images