Police: Carbon monoxide poisoning caused 7 deaths in Moorhead home
The carbon monoxide detector was removed and put into a laundry cabinet, police said. A furnace and a vehicle parked in the garage were identified as possible sources of carbon monoxide in the home.
MOORHEAD — A family of seven found dead Saturday, Dec. 18, in a south Moorhead home died from carbon monoxide poisoning, police announced Wednesday before saying they are still looking into the source of the gas.
Evidence points to an accident, Moorhead Police Department Chief Shannon Monroe said in a news conference at the Law Enforcement Center. There is no indication that negligence or a homicide played a role in the incident.
"I would like to stress again at this point that we have not found anything indicating any kind of criminal activity," he said.
Police still don't know the exact source of the carbon monoxide poisoning, but they have narrowed it down to a vehicle in the garage that had a half tank of gas and a dead battery, as well as a furnace located in a separate room in the garage.
It could take 8 weeks to receive blood tests to determine the source, Monroe said. Officials also couldn't get a clear read on the carbon monoxide levels in the home, interim Fire Chief Jeff Wallin said.
What is known is that a carbon monoxide detector was found detached from a wall, placed in a laundry room cabinet with a battery removed, Monroe said. It was replaced with a smoke-only detector, he said.
Police were called to a twinhome at 4403 13th St. S. after friends conducted a welfare check and found the family dead. The Hernandez-Pinto family were last seen Thursday, and the children did not show up for school, Monroe said.
Belin Hernandez, 37, and his wife, Marleny Pinto, 34, were found on the floor of their children's upstairs bedroom. The children, 16-year-old Breylin Hernandez, 7-year-old Mike Hernandez and 5-year-old Marbely Hernandez, were found in their beds.
Belin Hernandez's 32-year-old brother, Eldor Hernandez Castillo, and the couple's 19-year-old niece, Mariela Guzman Pinto, were found in their bed in a separate room.
It's unclear exactly when the family died, Monroe said.
The bodies were sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul for autopsies and blood tests. Carbon monoxide was determined to be the cause of the family members' deaths, Monroe confirmed during the conference.
Carbon monoxide was an immediate concern, he said, and members of the Moorhead Fire Department checked the levels to ensure safety of first responders.
"Detectives have worked with the State Fire Marshal and an HVAC professional and could not duplicate a furnace malfunction whereby carbon monoxide was entering the home," according to the statement.
Firefighters also checked the next-door home but found safe amounts of carbon monoxide. The residents in that home did not experience any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Officers and firefighters were not harmed from carbon monoxide while checking the homes.
Until today, police and the fire department had been hesitant to release the suspected cause of death or discuss carbon monoxide safety until test results confirmed what killed the family.
Two Facebook pages, Pueblo Nuevo Multimedia and Noticias Digital - Honduras, reported the family were originally from the Honduran town of San Francisco de Yojoa. They also claimed to have spoken with surviving family members who said the Hernandezes and Pintos "suffocated with gas while sleeping."
Minnesota law requires requires single family homes and every unit in a multifamily dwelling to have carbon monoxide alarms. Owners must install and make sure faulty alarms are replaced before tenants move in, but it is the responsibility of the tenants to maintain the detectors while they live there.
The property is owned by JEM Property Development. The Hernandez-Pinto family was renting the home.
A phone message for JEM has not yet been returned to The Forum.
An inspection conducted by the city conducted in September 2020 indicated the bathroom fans were not working and needed to be serviced so they could circulate air to the outdoors. Another inspection in 2017 called on the owners to repair the furnace since it was not providing the appropriate amount of heat.
Monroe said the furnace was functioning properly. City reports also did not mention carbon monoxide detectors, suggesting they were properly installed and operational at the time of the inspections.
When asked who removed the carbon monoxide detector, Monroe said, "We may never know the answer to that."
Cases in which a person intends to run a vehicle to poison themselves tend to have vehicles that run until the gas tank is empty, Monroe noted.
The police chief said the vehicle in the 4403 townhome garage was not running when emergency crews arrived at the home. The home temperature was about 54 degrees when firefighters entered the home, Monroe said.
That's likely because the furnace was on air mode and went out at some point, but the fan was still circulating, he said.
Monroe and Wallin repeatedly emphasized the importance of carbon monoxide detectors in preventing deaths like these. The Moorhead Fire Department responded on average to 59 calls for carbon monoxide checks each year, with 15 of those finding the presence of the gas in homes, Wallin said.
Wallin said he couldn't remember the last time Moorhead had a carbon monoxide incident that resulted in a death.
Two Fargo residents were sent to the hospital Wednesday after high levels of carbon monoxide were found in an apartment building . The cause of that incident has not been released.
Detectors should be within 10 feet of each bedroom and should be replaced every 5 to 7 years, Wallin said. The device should be tested on a monthly basis, he added.
"One key point that has come out today is, if replacing a combination smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector, it's important to also check to make sure you are replacing it with a similar device that can provide both level of protection," he said.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide toxicity include lightheadedness, nausea and dizziness. Anyone who suspects high levels of carbon monoxide in their home can call their local fire department to get the levels checked.
Clay County Social Services is assisting with funeral costs, Mayor Michelle "Shelly" Carlson said. She offered her condolences to the family and asked the public respect their privacy.
The family has appreciated the outreach and support from the community and others, Monroe said. As of Wednesday afternoon, a GoFundMe page had raised over $13,000 for the family's funeral costs. It doesn't appear to be accepting anymore donations.