A homicide unit supervisor tasked with the investigation, Sgt. Dennis Wolfford, described it as one of the more difficult cases he has worked.
"This one is up there. This one affected us," Wolfford said.
Brian Coulter, charged with the 8-year-old boy's murder, did not appear in court Wednesday morning when a judge read his charges. He is being evaluated at a mental health unit.
The judge set the 31-year-old's bond at $1 million. The judge also ordered he have no contact with any minors, specifically the minor witnesses in the case, and no contact with the boys' mother, Gloria Williams.
Williams, 35, is charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence, a human corpse.
A judge set Williams' bond at $900,000: $350,000 for injury to a child, $300,000 for tampering with evidence and $250,000 for injury by omission.
Like Coulter, Williams is ordered to have no contact with her children, or any other minors, and no contact with Coulter.
Both could face more charges, Harris County, Texas Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
Coulter and Williams were arrested Tuesday evening at a public library where they were searching news articles about themselves, ABC Houston affiliate KTRK learned.
KTRK was there as the couple was brought in to the sheriff's office Tuesday. Neither responded to questions. On Monday, they were interviewed and released.
At a press conference Wednesday, Wolfford acknowledged the frustration the public had when the couple was originally released after questioning.
"From very beginning, we were focused on getting these charges done," he said. "We wanted to get them done as quickly as possible." He noted that a lot of evidence must be processed before charges can be filed.
As for the children found in the apartment, Gonzalez said it appears some of them have different fathers. Investigators believe one father is deceased and the other is not in the picture and has no contact with his kid(s).
Wolfford described the boys as "special needs children," noting that early information indicates that at least two of the boys have autism. Officials also noted that it appears Williams has two other children who were not present in the apartment. It was not immediately clear how old the children are or who has custody of them.
According to investigators, William's 15-year-old son called 911 to report he and his two younger brothers, ages 9 and 7, had been living alone at an apartment in Houston with the body of a third brother who had been dead for a year. Deputies found the 8-year-old's skeletal remains under a blanket.
Earlier Tuesday, the medical examiner ruled the 8-year-old's manner of death as homicide, caused by multiple blunt force injuries. Investigators believe Coulter beat the boy to death and then he and Williams moved out, leaving the children to fend for themselves as their brother's body decomposed. The teen told deputies the mom had not been back in months.
In an update Wednesday, Wolfford said it appears that the boy was beaten to death sometime between Nov. 20 and Nov. 29, 2020. It was revealed at Williams' court appearance Wednesday that the two younger brothers gave a gruesome testimony of their abuse and the abuse of their deceased brother to deputies.
Both boys recalled Coulter kicking and punching the 8-year-old repeatedly until he stopped moving and had black eyes. The boys said Coulter then covered his body with a blanket.
Williams reportedly told deputies she witnessed Coulter punching her now-deceased son in November of last year. She told deputies she tried to stop him.
SEE MORE | No charges filed, mother and boyfriend released after 9-year-old found dead and kids were abandoned
The next day, she said she went back into the room where the beating took place and found the 8-year-old deceased under the blanket. Williams reportedly confronted Coulter, who she said apologized and claimed he lost control and kept punching him "until he went to sleep."
According to the details revealed in court, Williams admitted she knew her son was dead in November 2020, but did not notify law enforcement because Coulter told her not to. She was afraid her kids would be taken by CPS, and she was afraid she would go to jail.
The apartment the boys were living in was in a deplorable condition, officials said. The unit reportedly had no furniture, no bedding, soiled carpet and cockroach and fly infestations.
While the boys were abandoned at the apartment, investigators said the couple lived in a different apartment about 25 minutes away.
The couple would occasionally visit the boys, as is evident by a severe injury the 9-year-old had to his jaw, Gonzalez said.
Investigators believe Coulter beat the 9-year-old and caused the injury about three weeks ago. No medical attention was given at the time. The boy will soon undergo surgery, officials said.
Gonzalez said it appears Williams occasionally provided food by some delivery service, but it was never anything substantial, and was instead snacks like noodles, chips and soft drinks.
When deputies found the boys at the apartment, they were visibly thin. Wolfford said the boys said they wanted donuts, so the deputies immediately took them to a nearby shop.
He said an early investigation indicated that the younger boys may have been locked inside the apartment by Coulter.
"Very sweet children. Very nice. Very well spoken... at the same time, that thousand yard stare, that blankness in the eyes," Wolfford said of the kids. "At the same time they were as sweet as you can be. Nice children."
Neighbors told KTRK the 15-year-old relied on them for food. Erica Chapman was one of the residents who noticed something was wrong, and she started giving him food six months ago.
SEE ALSO | Kids in Harris Co. apartment relied on neighbors for food, while mom lived minutes away
Chapman said the teen wouldn't accept cooked meals. He would only take packaged snacks, fruit and pizza.
RELATED: 8-year-old has been dead inside SW Houston apartment for a year, 3 other kids were abandoned: HCSO
"I didn't want to push him away by asking questions because I knew he was starving and needed food," Chapman said.
The children's school district confirmed that in 2019 and 2020, the school district filed truancy papers against the mother. Two of her children apparently failed to show up to school. District officials said the kids were last enrolled in May 2020. A September 2020 home visit went unanswered, according to the district. Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk told KTRK the pandemic has made matters worse for vulnerable children.
"It was very easy for these kids to fall through the cracks," Sanborn said. "Texas has always relied on teachers to be that line of first defense for child abuse and these kids never got to that place where a teacher could identify what was going on with them, or begin an investigation, or alert CPS or others to what was happening."
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is seeking emergency custody of the three boys. A spokeswoman confirmed CPS has a history with the family but there was no active investigation at the time they were found.
Deputies said that so far, there is no evidence that Williams was also being physically abused by Coulter, and that she never made an outcry of abuse to law enforcement.
ORIGINAL REPORT | 8-year-old has been dead inside SW Houston apartment for a year, 3 other kids were abandoned: HCSO