published Monday, January 13th, 2014

2 Massachusetts children die after getting trapped in hope chest

A banner with the likeness of butterflies is attached to a stake in front of a home Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Franklin, Mass., where authorities say a brother and sister under age 10 have died after apparently getting trapped inside a hope chest.
A banner with the likeness of butterflies is attached to a stake in front of a home Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Franklin, Mass., where authorities say a brother and sister under age 10 have died after apparently getting trapped inside a hope chest.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FRANKLIN, Mass. — A 7-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister died after getting trapped in a hope chest in their home, authorities said Monday.

Family members found the children together inside the chest, which had a lid that could only be opened from the outside. Police responded to the Franklin home at about 8 p.m. Sunday, and the children were taken to hospitals but did not survive.

David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, said multiple family members, including an adult, were in the house at the time. He would not say whether the adult was a parent of the children.

A neighbor whose daughter was friends with the 8-year-old girl identified her as Lexi Munroe and said her 7-year-old brother, Sean Munroe, also died.

Dawn Powers, who lives a few doors down the street from the Munroe family, said the brother and sister were very well-behaved, "the type of kids you invite into your home."

Traub said the hope chest was "an older type" made by Lane Furniture and was purchased by the family secondhand more than a decade ago.

In 1996, Lane recalled 12 million cedar chests with lids that automatically latch shut after receiving reports of six children suffocating inside. In 2000, Lane — in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission — called for a renewed search for the chests after becoming aware of another suffocation death and two near fatalities.

Traub said it was not immediately clear if the chest owned by the family was included in that recall. The recall covered all Lane and Virginia Maid brand cedar chests manufactured between 1912 and 1987.

Messages left at the headquarters of Heritage Home Group, which now owns Lane, were not immediately returned Monday.

A message on Lane's website says it has provided new locks free of charge that don't automatically latch when the lid is closed. The company said chests made after 1987 have the new safety locks.

Traub said autopsies would be conducted. He said the family is cooperating.

No one appeared to be inside the family's ranch-style home Monday morning. Several children's bicycles were scattered in the backyard, along with a boy's truck and a plastic sled. Two bouquets of flowers and two stuffed animals — a white kitten and a brown dog — had been left on the front steps.

Both children attended an elementary school in town. School officials informed parents of the children's deaths and said counselors are available to students and staff.

Powers said she occasionally brought Lexi on family outings.

"She was just one of those kids, you enjoying taking them," Powers said.

She praised the children's parents, who also have three other children.

"Everything they did was for the kids," she said. "This is just a tragic accident."

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