DALLAS (AP) — The father of a missing 3-year-old North Texas girl was arrested Monday after voluntarily giving new answers to investigators’ questions about his daughter’s disappearance.
Wesley Mathews, 37, was charged Monday afternoon with first-degree felony injury to a child, a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment. Bond was set at $1 million, Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich said.
Perlich did not say how Mathews’ new answers deviated from his previous statements regarding the disappearance of his adopted daughter, Sherin Mathews. But Perlich said the elder Mathews gave different answers to police questions than before.
Police on Monday were waiting for confirmation that a body found over the weekend was that of the missing child, although Perlich said investigators have no reason not to believe the body found Sunday is that of Sherin Mathews. Police are also awaiting a cause of death from the medical examiner’s office.
Sherin, who was adopted from India last year, was reported missing by her father on Oct. 7. He told police that he had ordered her to stand near a tree outside of their home at about 3 a.m. as punishment for not drinking her milk, and that she was gone when he went to check on her about 15 minutes later. Authorities said he waited five hours to report her missing.
Previously, Mathews was free on bond after being charged with abandoning or endangering a child. According to police, Mathews said the girl was developmentally disabled and malnourished when he and his wife adopted her, and that they had to put her on a special diet that included feeding her whenever she was awake, including in the middle of the night, to help her gain weight.
Wesley Mathews told police that after doing an initial search once he realized his daughter was missing, he went inside and did laundry while waiting for her to come home or for daylight so that he could continue looking.
He and his wife, Sini Mathews, attended a court hearing earlier Monday to determine whether they could regain custody of their 4-year-old biological daughter, who was placed in protective custody after her sister went missing. The judge postponed the hearing until Nov. 13 to give Wesley Mathews time to hire a civil attorney, said Marissa Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services. The girl will remain in foster care at least until that hearing or until a judge orders a change in custody.
“We do have the names of some relatives who have expressed interest in taking care of her,” Gonzales said. “We can begin looking into those relatives, but it is entirely up to the judge where she is placed.”
Authorities using dogs to search for Sherin found the remains Sunday in a drainage tunnel about a half-mile from the family’s home.
Rafael De La Garza, an attorney for Wesley Mathews, told The Dallas Morning News after Monday’s hearing that his client was “mourning the death of his child,” but he didn’t address the criminal charges. De La Garza did not immediately reply to a phone message from The Associated Press.
Police said they believe Sini Mathews was sleeping when the girl went missing and was unaware of the alleged punishment.
Investigators have asked neighbors and area businesses to check their video surveillance cameras for footage of a maroon Acura SUV owned by the Mathews family that they believe left the home between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Oct. 7.
Kent Starr, an attorney for Sini Mathews, said that as part of Wesley Mathews’ bond agreement, the couple cannot live together. Starr told The Dallas Morning News that his client is seeking to regain custody of her other daughter and that she has cooperated with the police in trying to help identify Sherin’s body.
Officials from the Indian Embassy in the U.S. and the Indian Consulate in Houston tweeted late last week that they are in contact with police regarding the investigation and actively helping. Neither office has released a statement since the body was found. Police confirmed they are working with the consulate to obtain adoption records and other documents.
Associated Press writer Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to the report.
Follow Claudia Lauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLauer