BROWARD -- Human remains were recovered Friday evening from the backyard of a Hallandale Beach home where a baby went missing 18 months ago.
“This is no longer a missing person case,” said Police Chief Dwayne Flourney. “It is now a homicide investigation.”
The parents, 27-year-old Calvin Melvin and 21-year-old Brittney Sierra, are being held in the Broward County Jail on charges of child neglect and could face further charges in the child’s death.
On Saturday, an anthropologist will further excavate the back yard with special tools, the chief said.
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Flourney said investigators were led to the back yard of a small green home at 106 NW First Ave. after interviewing Melvin and Sierra. Cadaver dogs indicated someone could be buried there. Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies then arrived, and probed the area with metal spikes. An area of soft dirt was found at the rear of the house, and the bones were found. A medical examiner confirmed the remains were human, not animal.
Neighbors of Melvin and Sierra, who left the house some months ago, wailed, fell to the ground and burst into tears as police announced they had found a body.
Dontrell Melvin was five months old when he was last seen. He would be 2 in February.
On Thursday, the state Department of Children & Families took into custody Melvin and Sierra’s other two children, who had been living with grandparents, said Joe Follick, an agency spokesman.
Melvin, who talked to police Thursday night about his son’s disappearance, initially told them he had left the boy at a North Miami-Dade fire station — legal under the state’s safe haven statute, though only for about a week after a child’s birth. Police didn’t believe him. Flourney said Melvin has changed his story several times.
“The one thing that has been consistent is no one has seen this child since July 2011,” Flourney said.
That would have been when Melvin walked out of his Hallandale Beach home with Dontrell — and came back without him, according to what Sierra told police.
Sierra said she asked what happened to their son. Melvin told her that he gave the baby to his parents — the boy’s grandparents — in Pompano Beach so the boy could have a better life. The couple was having financial troubles.
Life went on without Dontrell, who was 5 months old at the time.
The couple went on to would have another child. Sierra has a third child, with a different father.
Members of one neighborhood family said they would see Melvin now and again, and would ask him: How’s Dontrell doing?
Melvin’s response: “Oh, he’s all right.”
Months passed. Sierra apparently accepted what Melvin told her — the boy was with his grandparents — and apparently didn’t delve too deeply into the situation..
“We can’t get over that fact either,” Hallandale Beach Maj. Thomas Honan said.
In October 2012, Hallandale Beach police caught a whiff of trouble. They learned Sierra was having “custody issues” with the Melvin — apparently a reference to the fact that the father would not tell her where Dontrell was.
The matter was referred to the state’s child abuse hotline. But the hotline did not pass the matter along to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which investigates abuse and neglect in Broward under contract with the Department of Children & Families. The hotline “screened out” the call, meaning it determined no investigation was warranted.
More months passed.
Dontrell returned to DCF’s radar Wednesday night after another call to the child abuse hotline.
As a result of that call, which was not “screened out,” a child protective protection investigator went to the family’s Hallandale Beach home — finding two children instead of the expected three.
Melvin, who has a minor rap sheet for pot and possession of stolen property, told the investigator that Dontrell was with the grandparents. The investigator went to the Pompano Beach home. The grandparents said they hadn’t seen the boy in more than a year.
The investigator went back to Hallandale Beach to talk to Melvin and get clarification.
Melvin was gone. Later he was located.
DCF declined to discuss the details of Dontrell’s disappearance and the agency’s actions.
According to neighbors, the agency went to the house where the couple have been living for the past year and removed two children.
Police said the rest of Dontrell’s family is cooperating and likely won’t face charges.
“[Melvin and Sierra] spinned the story to different segments of the family,’’ he said.
About a year ago, the family moved in with Sierra’s mother, just six blocks away from their little green home on Northeast First Avenue. Family there on Friday declined to comment.
Rosetta Braham, who lives next door, said there were six children living in the house — two of them Sierra’s children — but she never saw Dontrell.
Sierra and Melvin would “fuss and fight a lot,” Brahm said, and Melvin would come next door and sit on her porch. But Sierra would eventually come over, and the couple would make up.