Immigrant family of 7 found dead had long road to Moorhead: 'They suffered so much ... only to die'
Investigators said there was no forced entry to the home and they ruled out violence as the cause of death.
MOORHEAD — Police have identified four adults and three children found dead this weekend in a south Moorhead home, but officials remain mum on what killed them.
The Moorhead Police Department confirmed Monday, Dec. 20, that the seven bodies found Saturday evening in the twin home at 4403 13th St. S. were those of the Hernandez-Pinto family.
Police identified the deceased as Belin Hernandez, 37; Marleny Pinto, 34; Breylin Hernandez, 16; Mike Hernandez, 7; Marbely Hernandez, 5; Eldor Hernandez Castillo, 32; and Mariela Guzman Pinto, 19.
Investigators said there was no forced entry to the home and they ruled out violence as the cause of death. There is no threat to the public, police said. Officials declined to comment on speculation that the family died from a gas leak or carbon monoxide.
The bodies were sent to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office in St. Paul to determine a cause of death. It's unclear when police will receive the autopsy results.
The mother of the two brothers who died in the Moorhead home, Teodora Castillo, is calling for the repatriation of her family’s bodies back to Honduras, according to the Honduran news program Hoy Mismo.
“They are now calling for a humanitarian visa to go to the United States and make the appropriate procedures,” the mother said in Spanish through tears on Hoy Mismo video footage.
Family members in Honduras are trying to collect enough funds in 5-gallon water jugs with pictures of the family taped to the sides, according to video footage.
Teodora never knew her grandchildren, Mike and Marbely, who were born in America, she said in the video, adding that her two sons were “beautiful and hardworking and were very much loved by the community and had many friends.”
Some of the family members were “the ones who provided the food” for surviving relatives left behind in Honduras, said a man introduced in the Hoy Mismo video as the father , but was not identified by name.
“The news was a bucket of cold water as they were the family’s livelihood,” the father said in Spanish during the Hoy Mismo television interview.
The unidentified father said of his children that, “They suffered so much on the trip to America only to die. You could never imagine it. Now I just want their bodies to rest in their homeland, San Francisco de Yojoa.”
A GoFundMe page was created Sunday to raise money for the family's funeral costs. Within 21 hours of the fundraiser being created, over $13,000 had been raised toward a goal of $50,000.
Shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, Moorhead police responded to the family's home, just south of S.G. Reinertsen Elementary School, after relatives checking on the family found their bodies.
The children were students at Reinertsen Elementary and Moorhead High School, according to a statement from Moorhead Area Public Schools. "We are pulling together a crisis team to provide support and grief counselors for students and staff at the impacted schools throughout the week," the district said.
Police confirmed to The Forum that officers called the Moorhead Fire Department shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday to the home for a carbon monoxide detector check. Capt. Deric Swenson declined to comment on the results of that check, deferring questions on that matter to the fire department.
Interim Fire Chief Jeff Wallin declined to speak about the investigation or the results of the carbon monoxide detector check, noting that he wouldn’t be able to release any information on the case until a cause of death is released. He also declined to speak about carbon monoxide education or programs in Moorhead.
“We are holding off on making any specific comments or having discussions until the cause of death is identified,” Wallin said. “We feel it is a bit premature to allude to what the cause of death may be until the police department investigation is complete.”
While there are some exemptions, Minnesota law requires single family homes and every unit in multifamily dwellings to have carbon monoxide alarms installed. The owners of multifamily units are responsible for providing and installing the alarms within 10 feet of each room "lawfully used for sleeping" and replacing the detectors before a tenant moves in.
Occupants must keep, maintain and replace the detectors while living in the homes.
It appears the Hernandez-Pinto family was renting the home. Moorhead and Clay County records indicate the twin home was owned by JEM Property Development.
The last rental inspection of the property was completed Sept. 23, 2020. City inspectors found that the unit was largely in compliance with city code, but that the bathroom fans in the main floor and upstairs hallway were not working and needed to be serviced, according to an inspection report. It's unclear if that problem was addressed.
A self inspection was scheduled for Sept. 23, but records do not show whether it was done.
JEM Property didn't return a message left by The Forum Monday. Jason Ennen, an Advantage Realtors agent who is listed in Moorhead permit records as the responsible party, said he would like to speak with a detective before he spoke to The Forum about the incident.
Reporter Jeremy Turley contributed to this story.