Police unearthed tiny skeletal remains from the backyard of a Hallandale Beach home on Friday — all but confirming a heartbreaking end to the short-lived search for Dontrell Melvin.
“This is no longer a missing person case,” said Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy. “It is now a homicide investigation.”
The boy’s parents, 27-year-old Calvin Melvin and 21-year-old Brittney Sierra, were both in custody Friday, charged for the moment only with child neglect.
Former neighbors of Melvin and Sierra wept openly, wailed with anguish and collapsed after police announced that they had discovered the bones behind the small, green house at 106 NW First Ave.
The couple had moved from the modest home a year ago, apparently leaving behind a gruesome secret.
Standing behind yellow crime scene tape, a woman who said she was a cousin of Melvin’s shook her head at the discovery. “I just don’t understand how this could happen,” she said. “I don’t know how someone could live with that.”
Dontrell Melvin, 5 months old when he was last seen, would be 2 next month.
The search for Dontrell began this week when authorities responded to a Department of Children & Families hotline call of alleged child neglect. When police arrived at the couple’s home, they found only two children where there were supposed to be three.
Melvin had an explanation: He had taken Dontrell to live with his parents — the boy’s grandparents — because he and Sierra were experiencing financial difficulties. Officers went to the grandparents’ Pompano Beach home to check out the story, but the grandparents said it wasn’t true.
Police went back to talk to Melvin, but he was gone.
At that point, Chief Flournoy called a Thursday news conference to announce that Dontrell was missing and that police had grave fears about the boy’s safety.
Those fears were well founded.
The human skeleton was excavated after police spent much of Friday digging in the home’s backyard with the aid of cadaver dogs. Melvin and Sierra, already arrested hours earlier, were being held in the Broward County Jail, pending an analysis of the bones by the Broward County Medical Examiner’s office.
State child welfare administrators took two other children into protective care.
Questioned separately by police, the parents pointed fingers at each other.
On Saturday, a forensic anthropologist will return to the home to further excavate with special tools, Flournoy said.
Details of the toddler’s short life began to emerge Friday, raising troubling questions about whether police or child welfare authorities could have acted sooner.
Last October, an officer from the Hallandale Beach Police Department phoned the DCF child abuse hotline, relating information about a custody dispute between Melvin and Sierra. In the tape-recorded call, the officer does not express grave concerns about Dontrell’s well-being. But a report resulting from the call contained ominous words: “It is not known if the child is even alive.”
Despite those words, DCF declined to take action. The report was “screened out” by the child abuse hotline, meaning no investigation was warranted.
A spokesman for the agency, Joe Follick, declined to discuss the hotline call, saying it remains a part of a “current criminal investigation.”