The conductor of a freight train tried to brake when he spotted two toddlers on the tracks in northwest Indiana on Tuesday — but it was too late, according to police.
The train struck the 3-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl around 9:30 a.m. in Portage, Indiana, police said. The boy was already dead when the first officer got to the scene.
The girl — visibly injured and crying — was rushed to Comers Children’s Hospital in Chicago by helicopter after paramedics got her in stable condition, police said.
Before the deadly incident, toddlers Caleb and Ellie Wilson had sneaked out of their home in the Woodland Village Mobile Home Park through a screen door, and then wandered onto the nearby CSX train tracks, police said.
“Caleb is a train person,” said Denise Benson, the children’s step-grandmother, according to the Northwest Indiana Times. “Caleb loves trains and, of course, little Ellie follows Caleb everywhere.”
Adults who realized the kids had sneaked off were looking for them when the train struck, the newspaper reports.
Bryon Benson, the toddlers’ grandfather, speculated that the children squeezed through a hole in the screen door to get out — and said that once he and other adults noticed their absence and began looking for them, it didn’t occur to look on the tracks because it wasn’t a place the children ever played, WGN reports.
Just after 9 a.m. — and right before they got out of the home — Benson said the adults had punished the children, NBC Chicago reports.
Benson said no one in the home was doing drugs or alcohol, according to WGN.
“It’s dumbfounding to me how they even got out,” Benson said, the TV station reports.
The train tracks were just four houses down from the home where the children were before the incident A neighbor said “the conductor was waving his arms” as the collision occurred, but he added that he did not see the children on the tracks, the Times reports.
“They were the sweetest things. They were full of joy,” said Destiny Lewis, the children’s aunt, the Times reports.
An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, authorities said.
“The Porter County Coroner’s Office would like to remind parents of small children to please keep a vigilant eye on their children during these summer months when they are more likely to roam outside,” said coroner Chuck Harris, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Portage police said their investigation into the incident is ongoing.