A father died by suicide shortly after his toddler son perished after being left in a hot car on Tuesday, officials say.
The parent and child, who have not been publicly identified, were found by police in Chesterfield County, Virginia. In a press release, the Chesterfield Police Department said they received a call "indicating that an 18-month-old male may have been left unattended in a vehicle for several hours" shortly before noon. Shortly afterward, officials "received additional information indicating that the child's father was ... making suicidal statements."
In a press conference, Lt. Col. Christopher Hensley, the department's deputy chief of operations, said that police arrived at the residence around noon on Tuesday.
"On their arrival, (officers) located a vehicle in the driveway with an open door with an empty child seat in the vehicle," Hensley said.
Hensley said that officials found the deceased toddler inside the home. The child's father was found in a "wooded area behind the house deceased from an apparent gunshot wound."
“The investigation at this point indicates that at some point in time, during the day, the father, who was found deceased in the backyard, had left the child in the car for a period of time, causing them to die," Hensley explained.
While Hensley did not provide a full timeline of the day's events, he told reporters that there were phone calls "from others that led up to" the discovery of the child and father. Hensley also said that the child did not show up to day care that day, and estimated that the boy had been in the vehicle for about three hours. Temperatures in the area were in the upper 80s during the day.
“Things went sideways at some point and obviously it appears that the father forgot that the child was in the car," said Hensley.
Hensley said that officials have been in contact with other family members, including the child's mother. No details were given about where the mother or other family members were during the day's events.
“This is a horrible tragedy on so many levels. And our hearts go out to the family and friends that are going to deal with this,” Hensley said.
Hensley also called for parents, guardians and other caregivers to be aware of their surroundings, especially if they are caring for young children.
“We would be remiss in not taking the opportunity for people to take this moment and realize how important it is to obviously check your vehicles as you go through," he said.
Hot car deaths generally increase in warmer months since the interior temperatures of vehicles can reach life-threatening levels quickly. On average, the nation sees around 38 such deaths each year, according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit safety advocate, though in 2021 just 23 children perished in hot cars, a decrease that experts believe could be linked to the coronavirus pandemic. Several hot car deaths have already been reported in 2022.
Experts recommend taking extra steps, such as double-checking the entire vehicle, keeping something important in the car's back seat and forming a backup plan with a child care provider to make sure a child is not accidentally left in the car. It is also important to keep car doors locked and keys and fobs hidden so that children cannot access a vehicle without adult supervision.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.