A Georgia father and three others have been arrested after authorities found the bodies of his two 14-year-old children in his backyard — including his son, who vanished two years ago, PEOPLE confirms.
Elwyn Crocker Jr. was last seen in November 2016 and the last anyone caught a glimpse of his sister Mary Crocker was in October, Effingham County Coroner David Exley tells PEOPLE. Last Thursday, authorities discovered their remains buried in the yard of Elwyn Crocker Sr.’s home.
Neither of the children had been reported missing, the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Authorities made the “gruesome” discoveries after receiving a tip that Mary may be dead.
“I’ve been doing this 41 years, and a while ago I almost broke down in tears,” Effingham Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told reporters last week, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s that bad. I cannot understand how you do children like this. It’s horrible.”
Exley tells PEOPLE the children’s cause of death has not been determined, but authorities believe Elwyn Jr. has been dead for two years.
The sheriff’s office said that 49-year-old Elwyn Sr. “gave information that led investigators to search the grounds of the home.”
“Deputies questioned all the adult family members in the house and were told Mary had gone to live with her mother,” authorities explained in the statement. “Investigators determined the family members were giving conflicting information.” (Sheriff’s officials didn’t respond to a request for further information on Wednesday.)
Elwyn Sr. is charged with concealing the death of another and cruelty to children in the first degree, according to law enforcement. The kids’ stepmother, 33-year-old Candice Crocker, and their step-grandmother, 50-year-old Kim Wright, face the same accusations.
Wright’s boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater, 55, is the fourth person arrested in the case. He faces the same charges as the others as well as an additional count of possession of a scheduled or controlled substance.
It was unclear Wednesday whether any of the accused have retained attorneys who could comment on their behalf. They all remain behind bars and have not pleaded to their charges.
Elwyn Sr. had recently worked as a Santa Claus at a Walmart in Rincon, the Journal-Constitution reports, though it was unclear how long he was employed there.
A Walmart spokesperson tells PEOPLE that he is no longer working there but declined to comment further.
Authorities are working to discover just what happened to his children. Neighbors told local TV station WTOC that they spent most of their time either inside the home or outside doing yard work.
“Other kids said at school, they could tell stuff was wrong with her hands. They were red,” Gary Bennett said of Mary. “That was from being out in the yard out there most of the time working, doing stuff from the time she got off that bus until they would go in at night. Then she would go to school and kids would see her and ask what was wrong and she wouldn’t ever say anything. She wouldn’t open up to anybody.”
Another neighbor, Raymond Strickland, told WTOC that he didn’t understand how anyone could continue living in the Elwyn home knowing that two children were buried outside.
“They just went about their lives like nothing,” Strickland said of Elwyn Sr. and the other suspects. “It’s like, how could you, and with any kind of spirit in your body? How could you continue on in just a normal manner?”
He added: “The whole community is heartbroken about it. Everybody is hurt by this.”
This was first published on PEOPLE.