Four children have died in Maryland of carbon monoxide poisoning after inhaling dangerous fumes from exhaust pipes of cars buried underneath a record-breaking snowfall, authorities said yesterday.
The youngsters' deaths sent families into mourning on a day when other children were enjoying carefree play in huge piles of snow.
The fatalities prompted warnings from parents and officials about the dangers of a silent killer.
"My son was everything to me," said Torraine Thomas, the mother of Anthony Talbert, 12, a Baltimore youth who died in her car parked just around the corner from their house.
"Watch your kids in the cold and snow. If your car is warming up, crack the window."
City police identified a second boy who died with Anthony as Sheldon Mayers, 11.
A third friend, Joshua Dyson, 11, survived after being sickened by the fumes.
Officials in Montgomery County said that a 4-year-old girl, whose identity was being withheld yesterday, died after inhaling car exhaust in a 1994 Honda that her aunt was digging out of a snowbank Monday afternoon.
And, in Carroll County, 12-year-old Glendon William Bell Jr. was found not breathing in a Ford Festiva that was running and almost entirely encased in snow.
Glendon, of the 500 block of E. Ridgeville Blvd. in Mount Airy, died later at Frederick County Memorial Hospital.
Police said the youths almost certainly died of carbon monoxide poisoning, although officials were awaiting test results to confirm causes of their deaths.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas emitted by motor vehicles and appliances that burn fossil fuels, including many furnaces and heaters.
It kills by depriving the bloodstream, and thus the body's organs, of oxygen.
Police and grieving family members spent yesterday seeking explanations for Glendon's death.
The boy never regained consciousness after his father found him sitting in a running car behind a friend's house in the 200 block of Park Ave. in Mount Airy about 3:45 p.m. Monday, police said.
Helping a friend
Glendon William Bell Sr. said he and his son went to the house Monday to clear snow for an elderly friend of the family.
The boy said he was going to shovel in the back while his father cleared the driveway using a small front-end loader, Bell said.
But after about 15 minutes, Bell wondered why his son had been so quiet, so he walked behind the house and found the boy unconscious in a 1992 Ford Festiva buried in snow.
Bell said he attempted CPR but couldn't revive his son. He called 911, but paramedics also could not revive the boy.
"It's a tragedy," Bell said. "I always taught him to be kind, and he was.
"He did everything he could to help, and never said a bad word about anybody."
Resting after play
Two families in Baltimore's Pimlico neighborhood were also grieving yesterday for young boys who were nearly inseparable and had enjoyed a hearty day of playing in mountains of snow, police and relatives said.
Anthony Talbert, Sheldon Mayers and Joshua Dyson - all of the 5000 block of Pembridge Ave. - had crawled into the car of Anthony's mother to retrieve $9 for her before she went to work.
But the boys did not return from the Oldsmobile, which was covered in snow.
Instead, Anthony turned on the ignition to run the heater and warm up Joshua's cold feet, Joshua said yesterday in an interview.
Anthony - who was also known as "T.J." - began playing hip-hop music on the car's compact disc player, and the boys listened to the pounding beat as they sat in the car's back seat for about five minutes, Joshua said.
Anthony then turned off the car, and the boys began feeling dizzy.
Joshua said he smelled what he described as gasoline and fell asleep.
Thomas, Anthony's mother, said she knocked on the car's windows before she left for work, but the boys did not respond.
The car was not running, she said, and she could only make out the hood of her son's sweat shirt.
She thought she heard the boys laughing a little bit and pretending to sleep.
"They were snoring excessively," Thomas said. "Too loud to be asleep for me. They were playing."
Shadows and fear
Joshua said he did not remember Thomas knocking on the window, although he said someone else pounded on the window about 8 p.m.
He said he saw only shadows and did not open the door fearing that the person might be a drug dealer.
"The most profound part of this is that one of the mothers had gone to the car," said Joshua's grandmother, Annie Dyson, as she massaged the 11-year-old's legs to quell pain from his ordeal.
"He didn't answer the banging on the window because of fear of drug dealers. They are everywhere in the neighborhood."
In reality, the 8 p.m. knocking came from still another parent - Sheldon's mother, Laverne Mayers.
She was looking for the boys - and checked on the car - after receiving a worried call from Anthony's mother.
"She asked me to check on the kids, see if they were in the car," Mayers said. "I couldn't see in the car.
"I knocked and tried to open the door. ... It was locked. It was dark inside."
Just after 10 p.m., Thomas called police to report her son missing.
An officer shined a flashlight into the car and spotted the three boys. Joshua woke up and realized it was a police officer trying to reach him, so he unlocked the door.
"I looked around and saw Sheldon lying on me with one eye open," he said. "T.J. was on the floor."
Anthony was already dead, police said.
Sheldon died several hours later at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
Joshua was treated for hypothermia, minor frostbite and carbon monoxide poisoning; he was released about 4 a.m. yesterday.
All three boys were involved in their churches and were doing well in school, relatives said.
Anthony, a seventh-grader at William H. Lemmel Middle School, dreamed of becoming a heart surgeon to make money and help his mother.
Yesterday, his room was filled with magazines and school books. Above his bed was an honor roll certificate from elementary school. Three stuffed animals rested on his bed.
Dreams of racing
Sheldon, a fifth-grader with Joshua at Pimlico Elementary School, had celebrated his 11th birthday Feb. 8. A birthday balloon still floated in his living room yesterday. He dreamed of driving a racecar, his mother said.
"He was real cool," Mayers said. "He just made me laugh all the time."
Joshua cried yesterday when he thought about his friends and realized he would never play with them again or work after school with Sheldon at a local barbershop where the boys made several dollars a day.
"Josh is sad that he has to tell his boss that Sheldon is not coming to work anymore," Annie Dyson said.
"This is such a great loss."
Sun staff writers Laurie Willis, Mary Gail Hare, Childs Walker and Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.