... a while ago, I almost broke down in tears because I cannot understand how you do children like this.Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie
SPRINGFIELD — Forty-one years in law enforcement didn't prepare Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie for what he saw Thursday.
The bodies of two juveniles were discovered buried in a wood line in the 400 block of Rosebud Place in Guyton.
"... a while ago, I almost broke down in tears because I cannot understand how you do children like this," McDuffie said during a 6 p.m. news conference.
Just after 10 p.m. Wednesday, deputies received a tip that a 14-year-old girl was missing and feared dead. The girl, Mary Crocker, had not been seen since October.
Deputies questioned all the adult family members in the girl's home and were told that Mary had gone to live with her mother. Investigators, however, determined that the family members were giving conflicting information.
Elwyn Crocker Sr., Mary's 49-year-old father, gave information that led investigators to search the grounds of the residence, leading to the discovery of the bodies Thursday morning.
The bodies are believed to be those of Mary and her 14-year-old brother, Elwyn Crocker Jr., who disappeared in November 2016.
"Neither child had been officially reported missing," McDuffie said. "At this time, an autopsy will be required to determine the identities of the bodies we found. We do believe it to be the kids but, again, we do have to have an autopsy to verify that."
A third unnamed child with special needs was discovered at the residence and sent to the hospital for observation.
"To the best of our knowledge, it's OK," McDuffie said.
The sheriff said Elwyn Crocker Sr. and 33-year-old Candace Crocker, the missing children's stepmother, have been charged with concealing the death of another and cruelty to children in the first degree. The step-grandmother, 50-year-old Kim Wright, faces the same charges.
"This is an ongoing investigation. More charges could be forthcoming," McDuffie said. "Of course, an autopsy will give us that. I can't elaborate too much on the investigation at this time because of the nature and, basically, the horrendousness of these two kids being missed."
McDuffie said his office was trying to contact the missing children's biological mother, who lives in South Carolina.
At the end of his remarks, McDuffie issued a plea to the public.
"One of the things that we have contually talked about and encouraged is neighborhood knowledge getting to us," he said. "People see things, people hear things. Of course, all day (Thursday) as we've been out there, we've had people come up to us and, "I saw this,' 'I saw that' and 'I saw something else. But for whatever reason, they didn't feel comfortable enough to call us and let us know that.
"We just encourage those folks to give us a call and let us know if they see this kind of stuff. It can lead us to maybe not having this conclusion."
Effingham County Coroner David Exley said the bodies will be sent to the GBI crime lab for autopsies. He echoed McDuffie's sentiments.
“This is a very horrendous crime,” he said. “Children tug at our heartstrings all the time and we hate to have anything happen. When there are people that know something or see something, they should report it.”