PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (AP) — As authorities probed Tuesday whether carbon monoxide killed a divorced kitchen worker and the seven children he was keeping warm with a gasoline-powered generator, friends and family voiced outrage that their electricity had been shut off due to unpaid bills.
The bodies of Rodney Todd, 36, and his two sons and five daughters were found by police on Monday, more than a week after they were last seen alive.
Princess Anne Police Chief Scott Keller said there were no signs of foul play and that officers found a generator in the kitchen with no gasoline left. This suggests the possibility that they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keller said their cause of death is being investigated.
Keller also confirmed that the electricity had been turned off, and said officers were looking into when that happened. Maryland law bars utilities from terminating electric service for nonpayment of bills from Nov. 1 through March 31 without an affidavit filed to the Public Service Commission.
"I'm just numb. I'm just numb. Like it's a nightmare but it's not," the dead children's mother, Tyisha Luniece Chambers, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "If I had known he was without electricity, I would have helped."
Todd got some welfare money, but it wasn't enough, said Sarah Hardy, his close friend.
"How can a man survive off of basically minimum wage with seven kids, and you can't help him with a utility bill?" Hardy asked. "This man was working. And Delmarva Power cuts the lights off?"
Matt Likovich, a spokesman for Delmarva Power, said the utility is investigating what happened.
Lloyd Edwards said his stepson had bought the generator after the power was shut off due to unpaid bills at their one-story wood frame home in the small town of Princess Anne on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"It's so hard. How can you understand something like this?" Edwards said. "He was an outstanding dad. ... To keep his seven children warm, he bought a generator, and the carbon monoxide consumed them."
Todd had received assistance paying his utility bills in the past, but did not apply for help this year, said Tom VanLandingham, who directs the Office of Home Energy Programs in Somerset County. Families can apply once a year, and assistance is based on household income and energy use, among other factors.
"We're all kind of baffled as to why he did not apply this year," VanLandingham said. "That's the million-dollar question."
Todd retained full custody of the his children when his divorce from Tyisha Luniece Chambers was finalized last September. Court records identified the boys as Cameron and ZhiHeem, and the girls as Tyjuziana, Tykeria, Tynijuzia, TyNiah and Tybreyia. Bonnie Edwards said her grandsons were 13 and 7, and granddaughters were 15, 12, 10, 9 and 6, respectively.
"The mother left, not only the seven kids by Rodney, but she left her oldest son with him as well," Hardy said. "She abandoned him and the kids."
Todd served 16 months behind bars for assaulting his wife in a domestic dispute, Hardy said. Upon his release, "he came home, caught her in bed with another man, and the man was abusing the kids. He took his seven kids and her son and raised them on his own."
Chambers denied that she abandoned them, and said she had been paying child support.
"He wasn't a single parent. I was in their lives. I don't have drug problems. I love my kids and I'm sorry their father passed as well," she said, adding that she planned to meet Todd's relatives at a funeral home on Wednesday.
Bonnie Edwards said her son taught his children how to talk with elders and the value of education. For each child's birthday, he bought a cake and a gift, even though money was tight.
"There was nothing he wouldn't do for them," she said. "If he couldn't do it, he'd sit them down and tell them, 'Dad has to pay for this — I might not be able to get it this time, but I will get it to you when I can.' And they understood. All he was trying to do was to keep his kids warm."
Todd was a kitchen worker at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore. His supervisor, Stephanie Wells, filed a missing persons report after going to the house Monday morning and knocking on the door with no answer.
"He was a good person; he always did what he was told," Wells said. "He took care of seven kids. I last saw him on March 28, and I'd asked co-workers to look for him because it didn't seem right. "
Neighbors said they knocked on the doors as well. Two school staff members also checked on the children, but couldn't tell if anyone was home, said Leo Lawson, a spokesman for Somerset County Schools.
Associated Press Writers Amanda Myers and Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C., contributed.
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Posted on Tue, April 7, 2015
by JULIET LINDERMAN, Associated Press