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N.J. boys were alive in trunk for at least 13 hours

Officials searched area for two days

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Three boys who suffocated in a car trunk last month were trapped alive for at least 13 hours, slowly succumbing while police searched their neighborhood, prosecutors said yesterday.

The boys -- ages 5, 6, and 11 -- died between 13 and 33 hours after they climbed into the trunk June 22, according to the Camden County prosecutor's office, citing part of an autopsy report. The deaths were ruled accidental.

Relatives searched for the boys for three hours and then called authorities. A two-day search that included dogs, helicopters, and boats on the nearby Delaware River ended June 24 when the father of one of the boys found them dead in the car trunk, just a few feet from where they had been playing.

It is not clear from the autopsy information whether the boys were still conscious or able to cry for help when police arrived three hours after they disappeared. Several specialists said last month that it was likely the boys would have passed out within an hour or two of becoming trapped in the trunk.

The question of when Anibal Cruz, Jesstin Pagan, and Daniel Agosto died is crucial in the case, in part because of the possibility of lawsuits against officials.

If the boys were dead by the time police were called to the neighborhood in this impoverished city, it may decrease the families' chances of success in a lawsuit against officials.

So far, no legal complaints have been filed, and the mother of one of the boys said yesterday that the report's findings do not mean she will sue.

''I don't think me and my husband want to go through that. Suing anybody or getting a lawyer isn't going to help us bring him back," Iraida Agosto said.

Peter M. Villari, a lawyer for Anibal's mother, Elba Cruz, said the woman had not decided whether to sue.

''The family is still waiting for the final and full reports to be issued," Villari said. ''It's still premature to cast blame on anyone."

A report from prosecutors on issues including why searchers never looked in the car trunk is due next week.

''It would be inappropriate to comment on other aspects of the case until we have established a clear and complete picture of the events and discussed our findings with the families," Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi said in a statement yesterday.

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