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Prosecutor: New Jersey boys' deaths accidental

Bodies of missing boys found late Friday in car trunk

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CAMDEN, New Jersey (CNN) -- Autopsy results show three boys found dead in a car trunk suffocated, and their deaths have been ruled accidental, Camden County Prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said Saturday.

Sarubbi said there were no signs of foul play in the deaths of 11-year-old Anibal Cruz, 6-year-old Daniel Agosto and 5-year-old Jesstin Pagan, which he called a "horrible, tragic and unexplainable incident."

At least one of the children, he said, had a history of playing in the car, and investigators believe the three boys climbed into the trunk themselves. The trunk's lid closed automatically, Sarubbi said.

Authorities believe the children had been in the trunk since about 5 p.m. Wednesday night, when they were last seen playing in a side yard of the home where Cruz lived.

Questions were raised about why police officers and others conducting a massive search for the children checked the vehicle but apparently did not open the trunk. A panel will be appointed to investigate those questions and issue a report within 30 days, Sarubbi said at a news conference.

Also speaking at the Saturday news conference, Camden Police Chief Edwin Figueroa said if investigators had checked the trunk when they were first called in, the children might have survived.

"It's premature to determine what mistakes were made, if any mistakes were made," said Figueroa.

"Let me just tell you, I feel very bad, just like the community and other police officers, that three children were found in the trunk of a vehicle," he said. "I think that alone is a tragic situation. We certainly feel for the parents, who are right now grieving for those small children."

He added, "I can't guess what kind of speculation or what went on in the individual minds of police officers that were out there."

Elba Cruz, Anibal's mother, has said she left the three children playing in the yard while she went inside for five to 10 minutes to cook dinner. When she returned, they were gone.

The car was parked just in a shady area about 30 yards from the back of the Cruz home. Sarubbi said he could not explain how, if the children tried to call out for help, no one heard them.

Sarubbi said he did not know how long the children could have survived in the trunk, adding that the medical examiner listed the boys' time of death as unknown. "We may never know the answer," he said. The medical examiner may issue a more extensive report later addressing the issue, he said.

The car, which belonged to Elba Cruz's mother, Carmen Lopez, was not operational because of a brake problem, Sarubbi said. It had last been driven about three weeks ago.

The older-model maroon Toyota Camry did not have a mechanism that allowed the trunk lid to stay open independently when raised, Sarubbi said. "When the children got in the trunk, there was no automatic means to hold the trunk lid open ... In all likelihood, it locked." Investigators examining the car had to use two-by-fours to prop the lid open, he said.

A bag of cement was on one side of the trunk and had broken open, spilling the substance onto the children. Sarubbi would not say whether there were any signs that the boys had tried to escape. He said out of concern for the children's families he did not want to go into detail.

The car's rear seats did flip down to allow trunk access, but the seats were locked, he said, and there was no indication the boys had tried to get out that way.

The boys' bodies were found Friday night, when a relative opened the trunk looking for jumper cables to use on his own car battery, Sarubbi said. The father of one of the children, who was standing behind the car when the relative pulled the latch from inside the car, jumped away screaming and sobbing after the grim discovery.

Asked about a onetime person of interest in the case, Sarubbi would not disclose why police wanted to talk with the man but said that obviously, his involvement had been ruled out.

CNN's Mary Snow contributed to this report.

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