A Nepali American toddler was found dead early July 3 morning in a neighbor’s SUV in Denton, Texas, following an intensive 15-hour manhunt by police and the community.
An active investigation is still ongoing as to the cause of death of 2 ½-year-old Sarbesh Gurung, Denton Police Chief John Dixon said in a press statement. But local media reports and family friends speculated that the little boy, who loved to climb into cars, opened the door to his apartment and left home, wandered through the parking lot, and hopped into an SUV that is identical to the one owned by his parents, Sanjaya Gurung and Sunita Poudel Gurung.
CBS DFW reported Dixon as saying that a neighbor found the little boy in the car July 3 morning. Previous searches throughout the neighborhood missed the boy in the SUV as the car has tinted glass and sunshade that was up. The car was just two buildings away from the Gurungs’ apartment.
Dixon confirmed to India-West the investigation is still ongoing. The medical examiner’s office has not yet released a cause of death, as it is waiting for toxicology reports, which could take four to six weeks, he said.
The police chief told this publication that there were no obvious signs of trauma to the little boy’s body. The Gurungs lived on the second floor of their apartment complex; Sarbesh would have had to climb down two flights of external staircases — cement slabs with gaps in between — to get to the parking lot.
Dixon said the investigation is ongoing as to whether the SUV was locked, and how the little boy managed to open the door to climb in.
Asked by India-West as to whether the parents are being considered as persons of interest in the investigation, Dixon responded: “There are no persons of interest in this case. Everyone is being treated as a witness.”
Sunita Gurung told police that she had put her son down for a nap and when she went to check on him around 2 p.m. the child was gone, reported CBS DFW. Local media reported the parents as saying a car key was missing, and that Sarbesh could have taken it to try to get into the car.
Sanjaya Gurung — a teaching fellow at the University of North Texas, according to his LinkedIn profile — took to social media July 2 afternoon at 2:33 p.m. to report that his son had been missing for about an hour. He posted his phone number and that of his wife, noting that his home is near the UNT Recreation Center.
The Denton Police Department asked the public to help with the search, noting that the little boy was believed to be wearing a blue plaid shirt when he was last seen. More than 200 volunteers joined the search, knocking on doors, peeking into cars and searching dumpsters in a five-mile radius. K-9 dogs and helicopters were also used in the search.
Dixon said that the family is devastated. He thanked the Denton community for assisting with the search in an emotional Facebook post.
“When the safety of a child is threatened, it transcends across a broad spectrum, impacting everyone in some way.
“As we continued to hold out hope that we would be able to bring Sarbesh home safely and reunite him with his family, tragically that did not happen. As a police department and a community, we are heartbroken,” said the police chief.
The Gurungs are believed to have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade; they have one older daughter. After her son’s body was found, Sunita Gurung had a panic attack and had to be hospitalized. She has now returned home.
A vigil was held for Sarbesh on July 3 evening, near the site where his body was found. Funeral arrangements are underway.
The Denton Nepalese Family Association along with the Nepalese Student Association at University of North Texas has started a GoFundMe page for the Gurung family: https://bit.ly/2JgLkun.
“No parents should ever have to experience the pain Sanjay Gurung and Sunita Gurung are feeling right now. Let us join them in this difficult time,” wrote the organizers.
The fund had raised over $3,000 in four hours as of press time July 5 afternoon. Donors described Sarbesh as a “wonderful” and “sweet” child.