City of Camden, NJ Settles With Families of Three Boys Who Suffocated in Car Trunk

Dozens of police officers, helicopters, bloodhounds, and boats were involved in a search for three boys that went missing on June 22, 2005 in Camden, NJ. Unfortunately, none of the police search teams thought to check the trunk of a car that was in the front yard where the boys were last seen playing. That, in fact, is where the boys were—but died because no one discovered them in time.

The three boys—Anibel Cruz, 11, Daniel Agosto, 6, and Jesstin Pagan, 5, were playing in Anibel’s front yard the day that they went missing. Just two days after police stopped searching, a relative discovered the boys’ bodies in the trunk of a Toyota Camry sitting in the yard. As a result, the families of the three boys filed lawsuits against the city of Camden, alleging police negligence. In particular, they pointed to the lead officer in charge of the search, Lt. Nicole Martin, who was one of the first officers to respond but failed to follow proper police procedures in checking the front yard according to one of the family’s attorneys.

According to a filing by the attorneys, Lt. Martin was called to a lead to a nearby pizza shop while she was searching the front yard. Instead of finishing her search of the Camry, she left to go to the pizza shop. Furthermore, she never considered strong evidence– including the boys’ shoes which were found inside the car—that indicated that the boys were playing in the car. Overall, the families’ attorneys concluded that the boys would’ve been alive in the car for several more hours if Lt. Martin had properly search the car. Subsequently, the city of Camden settled with the three families for $750,000 each—a total of $2.25 million. Nevertheless, the families stated that nothing will bring back their children, but that they hoped the lawsuits would prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.