FLINT — A red-eyed Russell Lindstrom, surrounded by children’s toys, stood in the rain Thursday in his front yard.
But there were no children around.
A thunderstorm had cut power to Lindstrom’s stone house, intensifying the somber mood at the home.
It was the day after his two children were found unresponsive in a pickup truck at the residence at 18060 County Road 1100.
One of the children, Zoey, 3, survived, but the other, Bella Rose, 4, later died in a hospital, sheriff’s officials said.
The two girls suffered from extreme heat inside a closed vehicle, authorities said.
The death could be heat-related, said Shari Pulliam, Child Protective services spokeswoman for the eastern region of Texas.
Lindstrom, 33, who says he is an Army veteran who did two tours in Iraq and was injured by an explosive in 2009, talked Thursday about the death of his beloved 4-year-old daughter.
“This is one of the worst days of my life,” he said as tears ran down his face. “I want people to know this was not a case of bad parenting, but instead just a horrific event, and my baby is gone.”
Lindstrom said he had been out playing with Bella Rose and Zoey but decided to put them down for a nap shortly after 1 p.m.
“I thought they were asleep, so I began doing some laundry and other chores, and before I knew it, an hour had passed,” he said.
Lindstrom said a relative showed up at the home and asked where the girls were, and that is when he knew something was wrong.
“We couldn’t find them anywhere in the house, and we went outside and looked on a little trail into the woods behind the house where they had tried to go earlier in the day,” he said.
But as he walked by the family’s 2003 Nissan Frontier pickup, he saw the girls inside the vehicle.
Lindstrom said he got Bella out of the vehicle, but she was unresponsive. He said he tried splashing water from the pool in the front yard on her face, but there was still no reaction.
CPR also failed to yield a response.
“I am a combat veteran, and I’ve seen death, and when I looked at my daughter I knew ... crying, I knew,” he said.
Ms. Pulliam said the children’s family has no previous history with her agency, and the incident might be a tragic accident, but the parents could face charges, depending on the investigation’s outcome.
“Small children, when not properly supervised, can get into a lot of places, and one of those places is in a vehicle,” she said. “With the hot temperatures we have in Texas, that can be a potentially deadly place for them to be.”
Temperatures on Thursday afternoon reached 90 in the Tyler area.
Ms. Pulliam said the investigation was in its early stages.
“Cars are not babysitters, and children should never be left alone in or around an unlocked vehicle,” she said. “This could be a case where the children got into the vehicle themselves and then couldn’t get out, but we will still have to look at everything, including them being neglectful in their supervision of the children.”
The Smith County Sheriff’s Department late Thursday announced thata search warrant was executed at the residence.
The pickup was taken to the Smith County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab for processing.
An autopsy was ordered on the 4-year-old.
The surviving 3-year-old was initially treated and released at the scene by EMS but later was taken to a local hospital for additional evaluation.
The sheriff’s office was working with CPS on the investigation.
Lindstrom said he has not been able to talk to his other daughter since the incident and has only spoken briefly with the children’s mother and his fianc￩.
“This is a nightmare, and I’m under investigation, and I’m probably going to be charged with anything from neglect to involuntary manslaughter,” he said. “And so there’s a good chance I’m going to jail, and I may not see (Zoey) for a long time.”