- Orrin and Orson West, 4 and 3, respectively, were reported missing from their home in California City, California, in December 2020.
- The boys’ adoptive parents, Trezell and Jacqueline West, were arrested this week on two counts of second-degree murder and other charges.
- Though the boys’ bodies have not been found, a 14-month investigation revealed the couple killed their children three months before reporting them missing, authorities say.
The adoptive parents of two young California boys told police more than a year ago that their children had vanished from the family’s backyard.
authorities in California City, the community and the FBI launched a massive search effort for the West brothers, 4-year-old Orrin and 3-year-old Orson. But they were never found.
Officials why they announced this week: They had been killed three months before the search began to find them.
“We now realize that the search for the boys began after the real tragedy had already occurred,” Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry told reporters Wednesday.
Trezell, 35, and Jacqueline West, 32, were arrested this week on two counts of second-degree murder, willful cruelty to a child and one count of false report of an emergency, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said.
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The couple pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday in Kern County Superior Court. They are being held without bail after the judge deemed them “a significant and substantial risk to public safety.”
Though the boys’ bodies have not been found, a 14-month investigation revealed the couple killed their children three months before reporting them missing, Zimmer said. She said a grand jury indicted them based on evidence she said proves the boys are dead.
The search for Orrin and Orson West
The couple reported the boys missing on Dec. 21, 2020, from their home in California City, an out-of-the-way spot in the Mojave Desert, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Zimmer said.
During the first week of the search, Trezell West told local average the boys were playing outside while he moved firewood and his wife wrapped Christmas gifts inside with their other children.
“I saw them there, went in the house, I came back out, I didn’t see them now,” West said at the time. “I realized that I left the gate open, and I panicked. I came inside the house, searched the house – me and my wife.”
West said he searched the street in his van but as it got cold, dark and wet, he called police.
The FBI, the California Highway Patrol and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department joined the search but found nothing.
A week later, “crucial information came to light” that caused the Bakersfield Police Department to join the search effort, Zimmer said. The family lived in Bakersfield before moving about 60 miles west to California City in September 2020.
Zimmer declined to say whether Orrin and Orson had actually ever been in California City, adding “that’s something we’re going to answer during the trial.”
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Law enforcement agencies spent hundreds of hours over the next year unsuccessfully searching for the boys, Zimmer said.
The boys’ biological father, Charles Pettus, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against child protective services, the county and the state, claiming negligence for removing the boys from their birth family’s custody in 2018. The couple fostered them and then officially adopted them in 2019.
In the lawsuit, Pettus alleges he was not able to vet the Wests as qualified adoptive parents and that the defendants placed the children “in a dangerous environment, which led to their disappearance.”
It is unclear how police determined Orrin and Orson were dead without finding their bodies. Zimmer declined to answer questions, saying she was not permitted to reveal details of the case before the trial. Kern County Superior Court Judge Chad A. Louie granted the prosecution’s request to seal the offense reports outlining the Bakersfield Police Department’s investigation, The Bakersfield Californian reported.
The indictment lists several aggravating factors that may shed light on the circumstances of the crimes. It alleges the defendants “induced a minor to commit or assist in the commission of the crime,” threatened witnesses and carried out the crime in a manner that “indicates planning, sophistication or professionalism.”
The search continues in California
Now law enforcement and the boys’ family are focused on finding their bodies.
“This is not a resolution in this case and there will not be a resolution completely in this case until these boys are brought home,” Terry said.
The boys’ aunt, Kiki Hoard, said she won’t be able to grieve until their bodies are found, CNN reported.
“We’re not going to have closure until they bring the babies home so we can have a proper burial,” Hoard said.
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The family’s four other children, two of them also adopted, are in protective custody, Zimmer said. Lawyers for the Wests did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
If convicted of the most serious charges, Trezell and Jacqueline West could face 30 years to life in prison. Their trial is set to begin on May 23.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism