The mother of two Detroit children whose bodies were found in a deep freezer in their home was charged with child abuse Wednesday and could face more serious charges once investigators determine how the boy and girl died.
Mitchelle Blair, 35, was arrested Tuesday after court officers serving an eviction notice at her home opened the freezer and found the bodies of her daughter Stoni Ann Blair and her son Stephen Gage Berry.
The county medical examiner was hoping to conduct autopsies on the children's bodies Wednesday but had to wait until they had fully thawed. The police, meanwhile, weren't saying much about their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the children's deaths and the conditions in the home near downtown Detroit, where Blair's other two children had also been living.
"While we all understand the desire to know what happened in that home is strong, I will ask you to be mindful of the two children who were also in that home and are still living," Detroit Police Chief James Craig told reporters Wednesday. "They've been through a lot, a tremendous trauma."
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The two surviving children, a 17-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy, were placed in protective custody on Tuesday.
Blair is charged with five counts of first-degree child abuse, one of which could land her in prison for life, said Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County prosecutor's office. She may face further charges after the autopsies are completed.
Prosecutors believe that when they died, Stoni was 13 years old and Stephen was 9. Stoni would have been 15 now, if alive, and Stephen would have been 11.
Neighbors said they hadn't seen the dead children in about a year. None of the four children was enrolled in Detroit schools, and friends said their mother was home-schooling them.
Under state law, Michigan parents have the right to homeschool their children. Educating them, assigning homework and testing are the parent's responsibility.
Registering the home school to the state Education office is voluntary, unless the student is special needs and special education services have been requested from the local school district.
The state was not notified that Blair's children were being homeschooled this year, said Education Department spokesman Bill Disessa.
Neighbors say Blair has lived in the complex at least 10 years. She was unemployed and having money troubles, and she had gotten behind on her rent. Neighbors said they knew about the impending eviction. Court records show a judgment filed last month against her for $2,206 owed to the complex.
Despite her money and other problems, friends call her a good mother. Blair is known throughout the complex of low-income townhomes as "Angel" — a play on her middle name, Angela, that she got because she is so well-liked, said neighbors Carrie McDonald and Shay Wilson.
"The mother is a beautiful person. She was just going through some things," said McDonald said. "She has a good heart."
But neighbors rarely saw the four children outdoors. Some say they hadn't seen Stoni and Stephen for about a year.
"She really don't let them outside," said Wilson. "They are always in the house."
In announcing the charges against Blair, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said "the alleged facts in this case present examples of why we must all be diligent and involved citizens."