(NEW YORK) — An officer who helped to rescue a 4-year-old boy trapped inside a Union, N.J., apartment with his dead mother’s body said the child was “so bright and resilient” despite the horrible conditions and ordeal he suffered.
“He’s just a really sweet kid,” said Township of Union Police Officer Sylvia Dimenna, who stayed with boy while he was treated for malnutrition and dehydration to Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J.
“He knew his mom was sick and he said he tried to help her,” she said. “I don’t think he really understood the gravity of the situation, and because it was such a trauma for him, it wasn’t a good idea to really try to explain the finality to him.”
“A couple of times he said, ‘I missed my mom,'” said Dimmena.
Officers found the child locked inside an overheated apartment. Dimenna said the boy was too weak to unhook the chain lock inside the door to escape and was eating sugar out of a bag to stay alive.
The child weighed 26 pounds when rescue workers found him, said Dimmena. She said the boy may have been trapped for at least three days with his mother’s body decomposing inside.
Police Director Daniel Zieser told ABC News that officers went to the apartment around 11:30 a.m. Monday morning when they got a call about a terrible smell coming from the unit. When police arrived on the scene, they used a master key from the complex’s maintenance workers to open the door. Officers were able to unlock the door, but could not enter the apartment because it was chain locked from the inside. But they were able to prop the door open a few inches to see a thin little boy standing by the doorway, naked, except for one sneaker on the wrong foot. Zieser said the boy was told to stand back so officers could kick down the door to break the chain.
The boy’s mother, who was identified as Kiana Workman, 38, was found dead on the floor next to her bed in the single bedroom of the apartment, said Zieser. Authorities believe Workman was a single mother.
Zieser said the apartment was a mess.
The boy is in the custody of Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), New Jersey’s child protection agency, she said. Dimenna said she spoke with the social worker on Wednesday, who said the boy was doing well and that he was in foster care.
Investigators believe Workman died of natural causes. Zieser said her autopsy was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but “due to the [body’s] state of decomposition, they had to postpone it.”
Workman had been staying in her mother’s apartment with her son for at least two weeks, said neighbor Linda King.
Zieser said relatives of the boy and his mother have been contacted, but DYFS is in charge of making custody decisions for the child.
ABC News’ calls to Valentine for comment were not immediately returned.
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EastIdahoNews.com and CNN Newswire staff
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN