EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -Another person has been arrested in connection to the deaths of two teenagers that were found buried in their family’s yard.
Mark Anthony Wright was arrested and charged with Cruelty to Children in the first degree. Wright also lived at the home where the two children lived. He was the brother of the children’s step-mother, Candice Crocker.
A death investigation in the area of the Azalea Point subdivision in Effingham County has revealed that two teenagers were found deceased and another child with disabilities is in the hospital for observation.
Investigators found the bodies of 14-year-old Mary Crocker and her brother, Elywn Crocker, Jr., buried in a family’s yard in Guyton, Thursday afternoon. Elywn Crocker, Jr. had been buried there for two years. He would be 16 years old now.
Four people have been arrested and charged in connection with the deaths. The biological father, 49-year-old Elwyn Crocker, and stepmother, 33-year-old Candice Crocker were arrested and charged with concealing the death of another and cruelty to children in the first degree. Step-grandmother, 50-year-old Kim Wright was also arrested on those same charges.
Friday, investigators arrested a fourth suspect. Wright’s boyfriend, 55-year-old Roy Anthony Prater, has been charged with concealing the death of another, cruelty to children in the first degree, and possession of a scheduled or controlled substance. All four of the suspects have had their first appearance and were denied bond.
Investigators tell us they received a call for a welfare check on a juvenile Wednesday night. When deputies responded to Rose Bud Place Thursday morning, they couldn’t find the juvenile and started an investigation. Throughout the day, officials say it shifted from a missing juvenile to a death investigation.
ECSO held a news conference at 6 p.m. Thursday, saying the tip they received was that 14-year-old Mary Crocker was missing and feared dead. She had not been seen in weeks. Deputies questioned those inside the home, who said Mary had gone to live with her mother in South Carolina.
“Deputies realized this information was false and not accurate,” said Effingham County Sheriff, Jimmy McDuffie. “Information from Elwyn Crocker led investigators to search the grounds, and two bodies were discovered.”
Along with Mary’s body, investigators also found her brother’s - Elwyn Crocker, Jr. - who had not been seen since November of 2016.
Neighbors say Elwyn Crocker, Sr. had been dressing up as Santa Claus at the Walmart in Rincon, where he worked.
“This guy, the biological father, was a Santa Claus at Rincon Walmart, and these other families who live out here had their kids in his lap," said neighbor, Ronald Howe.
Derek Hall, who lives nearby, has never met the parents of the children, but he did meet Mary Crocker a few times.
“They would come to my house for candy. They would come to my house for Halloween, and the world is a smaller place now because those kids aren’t here anymore,” Hall said.
Neighbors say they just don’t understand how someone could live in the home knowing the children were buried outside.
“They just went about their lives like nothing,” Raymond Strickland said. “It’s like, how could you, and with any kind of spirit in your body? How could you continue on in just a normal manner?”
The Effingham County School System has released an official statement Friday regarding the status of the two teens at local public schools:
“Mary Crocker and Elwyn Crocker, Jr were both formerly enrolled in the Effingham County School System. Mary was last enrolled in our system during the 2017-2018 school year as a 6th-grade student at Effingham County Middle School. Elwyn, Jr was last enrolled through January 2014 as a 6th-grade student at South Effingham Middle School. The information on record indicates that both students transferred to a homeschool program at the time of withdrawal.”
The sheriff says if suspicious neighbors had called 911 sooner, some of this could have been prevented.
“People hear things. People see things. Of course, all day today, people have been coming up to us, ‘Well, I saw this and I saw that,' but for whatever reason, they didn’t feel comfortable enough to call and let us know that,” Sheriff McDuffie said.
The coroner says this case is as emotional as any he’s worked.
“This day in time with social media, people are always staying in touch, and when people disappear off the grid, something is wrong,” said Effingham County Coroner, David Exley.
Neighbors we spoke to told us they noticed the two children who appeared to live in the home didn’t play with kids on the street or do many kid-like things. Many neighbors told us the same story - that the small girl who lived there was always outside doing yard work, like raking leaves.
“Other kids said at school, they could tell stuff was wrong with her hands. They were red. That was from being out in the yard out there most of the time working, doing stuff from the time she got off that bus until they would go in at night. Then she would go to school and kids would see her and ask what was wrong and she wouldn’t ever say anything. She wouldn’t open up to anybody." said next-door neighbor, Gary Bennett.
Residents in the area can’t believe something like this happened in their neighborhood.
“It was about 5:00 this morning. I saw a lot of police officers out there with flashlights, and then I saw them put up some yellow caution tape so I thought no more than just a drug bust, you know,” said neighbor, Ruth Sikes.
Sikes says when she woke up Thursday morning, she didn’t think much of the police officers and the tape, but as time went on, she realized what was going on.
“But when they put up the red tape...the red tape...it meant....”
She has lived in the neighborhood for eight years and says nothing has ever happened like this.
“It’s devastating to know someone would do this to a child. I love my children. I have five kids and 10 grand-kids, almost six great grands on the way, and I can’t imagine someone doing this to one of them and it terrifies me to know that someone would do this to a child," she said. “Just love your children. If you don’t want them, give them up for adoption, and if you don’t want to have kids, don’t have them. You know, kids are too precious and too loving to do something like this to. I can’t understand someone doing this.”
School officials say the information on file shows they transferred to a homeschool program at the time of withdrawal, but neighbors still have questions.
“To find out that that little boy was gone for two years and nobody knew anything about it...,” Howe said. “Somebody knows something about it. It’s something. It’s weird.”
Everyone deputies believe to be involved are in custody and is being questioned. There is no danger to the public.
“I’ve been doing this 41 years, and a while ago, I almost broke down in tears. It’s that bad,” Sheriff McDuffie said. “I don’t understand how you do children like this.”
The bodies were sent to the GBI Crime Lab and have been positively identified as Mary and her brother Elwyn. The exact cause of death is still unknown.
The sheriff says the third child is expected to be okay.
Investigators were back at the residence Friday morning.
This is an ongoing investigation, and the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office says more charges are forthcoming, depending on the determination and manner of death. We have requested criminal backgrounds of all four suspects, but the sheriff’s office says that is not their main concern right now. Right now, the main concern is still trying to determine how many people had contact with the children.
People have been placing flowers, stuffed animals, and other things in front of the home in honor of the two children.
“The whole community is heartbroken about it,” Strickland said. “I even heard someone posted on Facebook that they were going to do a last run motorcycle ride, so you know it’s a far reaching thing. Everybody is hurt by this."
Watch the sheriff office’s full news conference below:
Stay with WTOC for updates to this developing story as they become available.