Three young children suffocated to death after becoming trapped in a freezer in northern Florida, sheriff's officials said.
The children — a 1-year-old girl, a 4-year-old girl, and a 6-year-old boy — had been playing outside in a yard at a home in Suwannee County, midway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, on Sunday. They climbed into the appliance when the 4-year-old's mother, who was watching them, went inside to use the restroom.
The freezer, which was not plugged in, had only recently been brought to the house and had not yet been moved inside, Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. The mother was inside the home for 10–20 minutes, he said.
St. John said that the woman and the grandmother of the other children began frantically searching the property for 30–45 minutes when they were unable to locate the children.
"When they opened the chest freezer, they discovered all three children inside of it, not breathing, and began resuscitative efforts and called 911," sheriff's officers said on Facebook.
"Unfortunately, all efforts to resuscitate the children were unsuccessful and all three children died."
Investigators say that a hasp, or metal latch, had been installed on the freezer in order to secure a padlock.
"It is believed at this time, that when the children entered the freezer, and the lid closed, the hasp fell shut, trapping the children inside," sheriff's officials said. "There was no padlock on the freezer."
Police have notified the Florida Department of Children and Families, but no foul play is suspected in the deaths.
Autopsies have now been performed on the children, but their identities have not yet been made public, St. John told BuzzFeed News.
Under Florida law, it is illegal to abandon or discard iceboxes, freezers, washing machines, and other appliances on a premises in order "to prevent deaths due to suffocation of children."
But St. John said he wasn't sure if the statute applied in this situation as the family intended to bring the appliance inside the residence but hadn't yet done so as it had only "recently" been delivered.
"We're meeting with the State's Attorney's Office tomorrow to run all this by them and see if they want to pursue anything criminally or not," he said.
St. John said the whole community had been horrified by the children's deaths.
"I've been with the sheriff's office for 38 years and I can never remember anything like this happening in the county," he said. "I hope it never happens again."