Spain: US couple charged over son's death at home

AP News
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Posted: Jan 08, 2016 11:56 AM

GIRONA, Spain (AP) — An American couple arrested after police found the badly decomposed body of their 7-year-old son at the family's apartment in northeastern Spain claimed Friday that the child did not wake up one morning weeks ago but that they didn't accept he was dead.

Bruce and Schrell Hopkins, aged 39 and 38, and who originated from the Detroit area, were charged Friday with negligent homicide but were released provisionally after being questioned by the judge.

Case prosecutor Enrique Barata said their passports had been removed and that the pair had "lost their sense of reality" following the death of their asthmatic son Caleb.

The charges come three days after the couple's arrest when police found the body of Caleb under several blankets on a bed at the rented apartment in the city of Girona where the couple lived with their three children.

Barata said the exact cause and time of the child's death had yet to be established and that Caleb was known to be alive on Nov. 15 when the family went to a restaurant to celebrate a family birthday.

Barata said the father told the judge that the family did not take the child to a hospital because they did not believe in standard medicine, but that they had previously treated his asthma with inhalers and homeopathic medicine.

"The child was fine playing around and living a normal life. But one morning he wouldn't wake up," Barata told reporters. "The father explained he tried to give his son resuscitating maneuvers, cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth breathing. But the child was unresponsive."

Barata said that "from then on the family lost the sense of reality."

"They would live normal home life around the dead body," he said. "They couldn't accept that the child was dead."

Police discovered the body after they went to the apartment following a call by the apartment's owner, who had gone to collect unpaid rent.

The prosecutor said medical tests showed the pair were not mentally ill. He added that investigations indicated the child may have already been dead when the parents found him and that there may not be a case for negligent homicide. He cautioned that they would have to wait some weeks for toxicology results to see if the boy had been given any drug or poison.

Christian Salvador, the family's defense lawyer said the Hopkins were now going through a process of mourning.

"More than a sentiment of guilt their feeling is of grief," said Salvador. "Grief because they've just realized he is dead. He was a seven-year-old boy. So this is about two parents who have just realized their son is dead."

The couple's two other children, a boy aged 12 and a girl aged 14, have been taken into regional government care.

Barata said the family's visas had expired several months ago. Police said the father was an engineer but could not say where or if he worked.

Police previously called at the apartment on New Year's Eve to check if the father was all right after the U.S. embassy contacted them, saying the man's colleagues were concerned after not hearing from him in some time.

Police said the man did not open the door but insisted that he was fine and would contact the U.S. embassy. The spokesman said the officers noticed nothing suspicious.

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Giles reported from Madrid.