Investigators' hopes of finding two boys whose adoptive parents only recently told authorities the brothers disappeared years ago is fading as more time passes, a Colorado sheriff said Thursday.
El Paso County sheriff's investigators have accused Edward Bryant, 58, and Linda Bryant, 54, of receiving almost $175,000 in government payments to support the boys, even though the biological brothers were not living with the couple for most of the decade.
The Dallas-area couple, who are married but separated, were in jail in Colorado Springs on $1 million bail each on charges including theft and forgery.
They have not been charged in the disappearances of Austin Eugene Bryant and Edward Dylan Bryant. It was not immediately clear whether they have attorneys. An attorney who represented them in a bankruptcy case filed in 2007 did not return a phone message Thursday.
Austin may have disappeared as early as 2003, when he was 7, and Edward may have disappeared in 2001, when he was 9, authorities said. They would now be 15 and 18.
When asked if he thinks the boys are still alive, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said: "You know, that's a very difficult question. What I can say is each day that passes, the faith of finding them alive diminishes."
The Bryants lived in the Monument area near Colorado Springs between 1999 and 2005 and most recently lived in the Dallas area.
Austin, Edward and a younger biological brother, who is now 14, were among nine children the couple adopted, Maketa said.
Five children who were living with the mother are in the custody of Texas officials. Another adopted child is in the military, and one is incarcerated.
The investigation started Jan. 22 when authorities were approached by two former foster children of Linda Bryant's biological daughter. They had been talking about the missing boys and noted contradictions in what they were told, Maketa said.
Edward Bryant allegedly said the younger Edward ran away in 2001 and Austin ran away in January 2003, while Linda Bryant allegedly said both boys ran away in May 2003, Maketa said.
No missing person report for the boys had ever been filed with her department or any law-enforcement agencies in the surrounding area, sheriff's officials said.
The boys' adopted brother James Bryant, who was interviewed at Fort Campbell, Ky., told investigators Austin was sometimes denied food as a means of punishment and that Austin often ate from a garbage can because he was hungry, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
He also told officers Austin was spanked, restrained by being tightly rolled "like a burrito" and possibly handcuffed, the affidavit said.
One of the two people who came forward Jan. 22 said Austin had told him he was sometimes rolled up in blankets, according to the affidavit.
Linda Bryant denied killing the boys and denied most of the abuse allegations but allegedly acknowledged "delaying food" for Edward and Austin, the affidavit said.
State adoption records are sealed, said Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services. An El Paso County Department of Human Services spokesman didn't return phone messages.
The elder Edward Bryant was arrested in Denton, Texas, and Linda Bryant was arrested in Lake Kiowa, Texas.
John Cabrales, public information officer for the city of Denton, said Edward Bryant has worked for the city's electric utility, Denton Municipal Electric, since February 2006. He is an engineering technician, a job that requires him to survey building sites, the spokesman said.
Sheriff's deputies conducted a preliminary search of the Bryants' former home in Monument Thursday in a neighborhood set amid an evergreen forest against the foothills. Narrow paved roads lead to homes nestled in the trees.
A neighbor who didn't want her name published said the Bryants had kept to themselves and that her interaction with them was mostly just waving to them.
"We as a neighborhood are circling the wagons" to protect the family who lives in the home now, she said.
A spokeswoman for the public school district in the area said she couldn't release information on whether the boys had attended its schools.
In a similar case in neighboring Kansas, a couple has been charged with fraudulently collecting $52,800 in state adoption subsidies for a son who disappeared. Their lawyer has called the allegation a technical financial matter.
The family in that case said the boy ran away in 1999. Authorities learned of his absence when his older sister contacted them in December 2008.
Associated Press writer Catherine Tsai reported from Denver. News researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York and AP writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.