A five-year-old boy died Monday afternoon when his mother left him inside a parked car at the family’s home while she prepared for her daughter’s birthday party. The child was left inside the car for hours amid record-high temperatures in the Texas summer heat.
The Houston-area mother had been running errands with her son and eight-year-old daughter that day and was in a rush to set up her daughter’s party when she got home, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez told CNN affiliate KTRK.
The mother and daughter exited the vehicle and didn’t notice they had left the five-year-old still strapped into his car seat in the back.
“Between maybe two to three hours, the mom noticed that the other five-year-old (was) nowhere to be found,” Sheriff Gonzalez told NBC affiliate KPRC. “She began calling for him, but no answer. She frantically ran outside and discovered the five-year-old still buckled in his car seat.”
The mother found her son unresponsive and immediately called 911. When first responders arrived they pronounced the child dead at the scene. It’s unclear if the mother will face charges for her son’s death.
“It appears that the child routinely knows how to unbuckle himself from the toddler’s seat and open the door, but on this occasion, it didn’t happen,” Gonzalez told KPRC. There was no child lock engaged on the car either, according to CNN.
It’s not clear why the child didn’t unbelt himself and the leave the car, but investigators believe he was possibly confused because the car was a rental and not the usual family vehicle.
The local medical examiner’s office has not yet announced an official cause of death, but Gonzalez told KPRC that the five-year-old boy likely died of heat stroke.
Temperatures in Houston on Monday were a record high, reaching over 38 degrees Celsius, according to CNN Weather.
Around 38 children under the age of 15 die from heatstroke each year in the U.S. after being left inside hot cars, according to the National Safety Council.
In Canada, around one child per year dies of being trapped inside overheated cars according to a report by the Hospital for Sick Children. The majority of these incidents occur when a caregiver forgets that their child is inside the car.