DALLAS — The father of a missing toddler whose body was found in a culvert under a road in suburban Dallas now says the girl choked to death on milk in the family's garage after earlier claiming she wandered off in the middle of the night when he sent her outside as punishment for not drinking her milk, authorities said.
Wesley Mathews reported 3-year-old Sherin Mathews missing on Oct. 7 and searchers with cadaver dogs found her body Sunday. Richardson police said Tuesday that the Dallas County medical examiner's office used dental records to identify the body as that of the child.
Police said the medical examiner has not yet determined a cause of death, and an autopsy hasn't been released.
Mathews, who adopted Sherin from India in June 2016 with his wife, Sini Mathews, was arrested Monday after he voluntarily revised his police statement on what happened to the girl. His attorney, Rafael De La Garza, did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.
Mathews initially told police that he had sent the girl to stand outside at 3 a.m. near a tree across an alley from the family's fence because she refused to drink her milk. In his revised statement Monday, he said the girl choked on the milk and that he removed her body from the home after he believed she had died.
Richardson police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Perlich said Tuesday that the investigation is continuing, despite the revised statement.
"This by no means completes our investigation. It is possible there would be additional arrests or modifications of the charges as the investigation proceeds," he said.
Police on Monday charged Mathews with first-degree felony injury to a child, punishable by up to life in prison, and he was being held on $1 million bond. He was initially charged with abandoning or endangering a child after reporting the girl missing.
Perlich previously said police believe Sini Mathews was unaware of her husband's alleged punishment of the girl and that she was asleep at the time. She cooperated with police to identify Sherin's body, he said.
According to an arrest affidavit filed Tuesday by Richardson police, Wesley Mathews said Monday in an interview that he had been trying to get the girl to drink her milk in the garage.
"Eventually the 3-year-old girl began to drink the milk. Wesley Mathews then physically assisted the 3-year-old girl in drinking the milk," according to the affidavit.
Mathews told police that Sherin began to choke, she was coughing and that "her breathing slowed." He said he eventually felt no pulse and believed the child had died. Investigators wrote that he "then admitted to removing the body from the home."
The affidavit does not say whether Mathews told police he administered any medical aid to the child.
Perlich said Mathews previously told police that the girl had developmental disabilities and was malnourished when they adopted her from India. The couple described a special diet regimen that required her to eat whenever she was awake, in order to help her gain weight.
Mathews said that after punishing her for not drinking her milk, he went outside where he made her stand to check on her at 3:15 a.m. and discovered she was missing. Mathews said he decided at that point to do laundry while he waited for daylight to look for the girl or for her to return.
He called police and reported her missing about 8 a.m. Police had also sought surveillance camera footage from neighbors and local businesses, saying they believed one of the family's cars — a maroon Acura SUV — had left the house between 4 and 5 a.m.
State Child Protective Services removed Wesley and Sini Mathews' 4-year-old biological daughter from their home soon after Sherin was reported missing. A judge said Monday that the girl will remain in foster care until a custody hearing in November.
A spokeswoman for the state agency said family members in Fort Bend County, outside Houston, have expressed interest in taking care of the girl, but that a judge will decide where she is placed.
FEATURED PHOTO: People gather near where the body of a small child was found Sunday morning during the search for a missing 3-year-old girl in Richardson. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)