A 2-year-old boy who was found bound and gagged in a home where three people died was recovering Wednesday as police sought a motive for the slayings that has shocked this quiet Southern California city.
A family friend found the bodies of a couple and a woman on Tuesday in an apartment in Banning. Police initially did not see the boy, who was in a small space behind a converted bathroom, and suspected he had been kidnapped, Police Chief Leonard T. Purvis said.
The boy's hands were taped and his mouth was covered, but an officer heard him whimpering. A blowing fan had masked the sounds, Purvis said.
"For someone to do that to a 2-year-old is atrocious," he said. "No one should have to go through that, especially a child."
The toddler would be placed in protective custody, the police chief said. He was examined at a hospital and treated for dehydration, Purvis said.
The deaths were the first homicides of the year in this city of 29,000 residents. Banning, which is about 85 miles east of Los Angeles, had only three reported killings last year and none for the two previous years.
Purvis said no clear weapon or cause of death had been found, but the killings did not appear to be a murder-suicide. The Riverside County coroner's office identified the deceased Wednesday as Demetrius Hunt, 42; Cynthia Smith, 57; and Natasha Biggers, 33. All three were listed as victims of homicide.
Friends and relatives said one of the women was Hunt's girlfriend and the boy's mother.
Purvis Hunt told the Riverside Press-Enterprise (http://bit.ly/o1aX1A) that he believed drug dealers killed his son. Demetrius Earl Hunt had a long criminal record that included drunken driving, possession of cocaine, growing marijuana and spousal abuse, according to the newspaper.
"It was a dope gang," Hunt said. "My son was in the street."
Information from: The Press-Enterprise, http://www.pe.com