PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (AP) — A divorced father and the seven children he was raising on his kitchen worker’s salary were found dead in their home, where relatives said he was using a gasoline-powered generator to keep his family warm after the electricity was 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 was no foul play and that officers found a generator in the kitchen with no gasoline left, which suggests the possibility that they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Their cause of death is being investigated.
Keller also confirmed that the electricity had been was 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.
Matt Likovich, a spokesman for Delmarva Power, said the utility is investigating as well.
Lloyd Edwards said his stepson had bought the generator after the power was shut off due to unpaid bills at their the 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 as he and Todd’s mother, Bonnie Edwards, mourned outside the home. “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.”
Bonnie Edwards said her son set an example for his children, teaching them how to talk to elders and the value of education. For each child’s birthday, he bought a cake and a gift even though money was tight, with only his income supporting the family, she said.
“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 received full custody of the children in the divorce proceedings, which identified the boys as Cameron and ZhiHeem, and the girls as Tyjuziana, Tykeria, Tynijuzia, TyNiah and Tybreyia. Bonnie Edwards said the boys were 13 and 7, and the girls were 15, 12, 10, 9 and 6, respectively.
“I feel empty,” she said. “I’m used to coming up here and seeing my grandkids running up and down the steps.”
People hugged each other and looked on somberly outside the home Monday as officers stood by and investigators went through the house. The home was encircled with yellow police tape, wrapped around some trees in the yard.
Todd was a kitchen at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where 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. ”
Two school staff members also went to the house, 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.