Today marks 3 years since 3 year old Marcus Feisel was killed.
Marcus Fiesel's foster parents knew all along their missing boy was dead, say Hamilton County prosecutors.
They knew, prosecutors say, because Liz and David Carroll Jr. left the 3-year-old alone for two days in a locked closet while they attended a family reunion. They knew because David Carroll later burned and hid Marcus' body.
They knew even as they cried before TV cameras, begging the community to help them find the missing boy.
That is the story authorities told Monday after charging the Carrolls with Marcus' death. The story is starkly different from the one the Carrolls told for 14 days.
"Everyone was aware, everyone covered up," said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters at a press conference, flanked by Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis and Clermont County Prosecutor Don White.
"It really is one of the most heartless things I've ever seen," Deters said. "The bottom line is you wouldn't treat a dog like this."
Leis added, "In my 35 years involved in law enforcement, this is the worst I've seen."
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted the Carrolls on Monday on charges of involuntary manslaughter and two charges of child endangering, one for putting Marcus' safety at risk, the other for excessive restraint over a prolonged period of time.
David Carroll Jr., 29, also was charged with gross abuse of a corpse, accused of burning the body in Brown County.
Deters said those charges are preliminary, meant to hold the Carrolls during the investigation.
He said more serious charges are expected.
Both are being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center.
Bond is expected to be set at an arraignment today.
Under the charges filed Monday, Liz Carroll, 30, could face up to 23 years in prison. David Carroll Jr. could face up to 24 years in prison.
Prosecutors say they believe the boy's body was burned in Brown County and the remains were later dumped in or near the Ohio River.
Investigators spent Monday evening searching for Marcus' remains in Brown County at a two-story stone chimney, all that's left of a home on Marriott Road that burned years ago, said the owner of the property.
"We never smelled any smoke," said Mike Cales, 37, owner of the 85-acre property. His home is on the opposite side of the property from the chimney.
But he smelled smoke late Monday as he hovered near the chimney after investigators left.
"It just breaks my heart," said Paula Greer, the sister of David Carroll Jr.'s stepmother and the cousin of his mother, Debra Hounshell. "That's not how I wanted it to turn out. I wanted him to be picked up.
"My God," she said. "I didn't even think about him being burnt. That is the most horrible thing.
"My family is so torn apart. ... They lied. They lied. They lied," she said.
"I wanted him to be found alive," said Cherice Adkins, who is a second cousin and stepsister of David Carroll Jr. "I did. But I knew in my heart he was already dead.
"He was just an innocent baby," Adkins said. "I am so upset I cannot breathe."
The Clermont County Department of Job and Family Services took the Carrolls' four children into custody Monday.
Marcus' birth mother could not be reached for comment.
Thousands of people searched for Marcus since Aug. 15, when Liz Carroll said she fainted in Juilfs Park in Anderson Township and Marcus wandered off.
That same day Marcus had an appointment with Women, Infants and Children, a health and nutritional program for low-income children under the age of 5.
As the days slipped by there was no sign of the little boy, who was placed in the Carrolls' care in April because Marcus was found wandering in the street the night of April 22. The Carrolls were paid $1,000 a month to care for the little boy, who was developmentally delayed and suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He had the mental capacity of a 12- to 18-month old.
Liz Carroll told The Enquirer on Aug. 21 that neither she nor her husband hurt Marcus.
As time went by, authorities grew suspicious of the Carrolls.
No witnesses corroborated their story. No one other than Liz Carroll reported seeing Marcus in the park.
"Within a couple of days I knew full well that boy was never in the woods," Leis said.
But the Carrolls stuck to their story.
"They lied to the bitter end," Deters said.
Grand jury break
A break came Monday after the case went to a grand jury, Deters said.
He said investigators gathered information that showed the couple left their Union Township rental home the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 4, for Liz Carroll's family reunion in Williamstown, Ky., leaving Marcus in a small closet inside a playpen-type crib with no food or water, just an electric fan.
"They intentionally left him there," Deters said.
The Carrolls returned home at 7 a.m. Sunday to find Marcus dead, Deters said.
David Carroll Jr. then took Marcus' body to an abandoned house in Brown County and burned it, Deters said.
Four days later the Carrolls told a caseworker Marcus was ill, turning her away, Deters said. That gave them five days to cook up the tale they told in Juilfs Park.
Authorities said the hoax ultimately worked against them because they started to contradict themselves in their public statements.
"The more they talk the better off we are," Leis said.
Hamilton County Coroner O'dell Owens, who was reached while on vacation and was not involved with the case Monday, said heat, not the lack of food and water, likely killed Marcus.
The high temperatures Aug. 4 through the Aug. 6 ranged from 87 to 92 degrees.
Children are more vulnerable then adults, but typically it is possible to go three days without food and water, Owens said.
"In a closet, you are going to get very little heat exchange," Owens said. "He also may not have been fully hydrated. It may not have taken three days; he could have been gone in 24 hours; that closet could have gotten up to 105, 110 degrees and that's heat stroke area.
"It doesn't take that long," Owens said.
Deters said investigators decided to use the grand jury because witnesses are questioned under oath. If they lie, it can mean up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors often use that tactic to get witnesses and suspects talking.
Deters said various witnesses were called, but grand jury proceedings are secret.
Arrest times suggest Liz Carroll was called to the grand jury and her husband was not.
Liz Carroll was arrested at the prosecutor's office at 2 p.m., but David Carroll was arrested at the Clermont County home on Mount Carmel-Tobasco Road where the couple was staying.
Amy Baker, David's girlfriend who lived with him and his wife in Union Township, knew Marcus lived with the family and attended the reunion without Marcus, according to relatives.
She was not charged.
"She still may be," Deters said. "We're continuing to investigate. A decision will be made in the next 10 days."
Deters would not say whether Baker testified or say who else was called.
Shortly after charges were filed, investigators did another search of the Carrolls' Valley Wood Drive home in Union Township.
Jann Heffner, executive director of Butler County Children Services Board, sent out a prepared statement, saying caseworkers were "saddened and outraged" by Marcus's death.
"Marcus was a wonderful child who had a great deal of promise. His death has devastated our entire agency - especially those caseworkers and supervisors who had the pleasure of knowing him personally. We grieve for Marcus and those who loved him," the statement said.
Deters said Marcus should never have been placed with the Carrolls.
An agency called Lifeway for Youth, a faith-based private agency, recruited and trained the Carrolls and recommended them to Butler County authorities when they needed a place for Marcus.
Lifeway is now under investigation by the state.
Local counties have halted placements through Lifeway.
State Sen. Gary Cates of West Chester said the state needs to answer questions about how Marcus ended up with the Carrolls. "If there is a problem in the system, I want to change the law to get the system fixed," he said. "If there is a problem with somebody in the bureaucracy who messed up, I want to find out who messed up.
"I want to find out who failed in this situation," Cates said.
Proud of community
Deters said people in the community, the thousands who searched, may feel betrayed, but they shouldn't.
"I've never been more proud of law enforcement," Deters said. "And I've never been more proud of the community at large."
Many of those who helped search for Marcus held a candlelight vigil at the Carrolls' former residence Monday night.
Late into the night the crowd left, but left behind messages of sadness.
Candles, no longer lit, were placed in the shape of a heart and Marcus' initials, M and F.
Three bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals lay in front of the house.
Kandy Meadors, who lived down the street from the Carrolls' rental house and whose 11-year-old son occasionally played with the Carroll children, said it was hard to understand how parents could harm a child.
"I can't believe this. I just can't comprehend it," she said. "All mothers will cry over this, every mother on the street is crying."
Meadors' husband, Ed, said after Marcus disappeared, he occasionally saw the Carrolls drive by.
"They'd just wave and smile, drinking their Mountain Dew," Ed Meadors said. "I hope they get what they deserve."
Staff writers Eileen Kelley, Quan Truong, Sheila McLaughlin and Dan Horn contributed from Cincinnati.com.