“It seemed too horrific to be real.”
These are the only words Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez could use on Wednesday to sum up the unexpected horrors that his deputies encountered three days ago.
Inside an apartment at the City Parc II at West Oaks Apartments – whose website promises “unparalleled living” set within “surroundings of beautiful landscaping” – three innocent children were living in “unspeakable” conditions.
Flies and cockroaches swarmed the unit, carpets were soiled, there wasn’t a single piece of furniture and the children were forced to sleep on the floor with no bedding.
The three brothers – aged 15, nine and seven – were malnourished, had suffered physical abuse and hadn’t been to school in more than a year.
The two youngest had been locked inside the apartment, banned from leaving (presumably so that no one would alert authorities to the fact they were alone).
The eldest would leave the home to pick up food for his brothers from kind neighbours who took pity on him and let him charge his phone when the electricity was cut off.
This alone was enough to warrant the home being dubbed the house of horrors and for the officers involved to describe it as “most disturbing incident they have worked in their entire law enforcement careers”.
But inside an even more heart-breaking discovery was made.
The three children were living with the skeletal remains of their eight-year-old brother who is said to have been savagely beaten to death by their mother’s boyfriend around Thanksgiving last year.
According to the surviving children’s accounts heard in court Wednesday, Brian Coulter punched and kicked their brother Kendrick Lee until he stopped moving.
His body was then covered in a blanket and left to rot for the next 11 months.
Meanwhile, Mr Coulter and the mother of the four children Gloria Williams allegedly moved to another apartment away from the rotting corpse of the murdered child, leaving the surviving children with no one but each other to fend for their survival.
It’s a case that has sent shockwaves across the country as new details about the children’s torturous existence continue to come to light.
On Tuesday, Mr Coulter was charged with Kendrick’s murder and Ms Williams was charged with injury to a child by omission and tampering with a human corpse.
But while community members, law enforcement and neighbours are asking how anyone could treat young children in the way alleged by authorities, one other key question is also mounting: how was this allowed to happen?
The family had been known to Child Protective Services in the past. None of the children had been to school since May 2020. And neighbours in the busy 192-unit apartment complex had reported a foul smell and had been feeding the starving 15-year-old.
But, somehow the children and their horrific existence managed to slip through the net.
What happened to Kendrick?
Horrific new details of the alleged murder of the eight-year-old boy were revealed during Ms Williams’ initial court appearance Wednesday.
The court heard the harrowing first-hand accounts of the two youngest boys as they allegedly witnessed their brother’s murder last November.
Both had told investigators they were in the room when Mr Coulter repeatedly punched and kicked Kendrick to death.
The nine-year-old said he saw the 31-year-old beat his brother in his face, feet, legs, back, testicles and buttocks, carrying on even after he stopped moving and “stopped blinking”.
His seven-year-old brother recalled how Mr Coulter allegedly stared him in the eyes while he violently attacked Kendrick who was in a heap on the floor.
Mr Coulter then covered his brother – whose eyes were black and unblinking from the beating – with a blanket, they said.
The court heard how the nine-year-old told officers his mother cried when she saw what had happened and she and Mr Coulter got into a fight.
The two young boys both described in chilling detail seeing their sibling’s body decompose, with the nine-year-old describing how his “body was a skeleton and his hair was off” while the seven-year-old recalled looking under the blanket and seeing Kendrick “covered in roaches”.
The 15-year-old boy told investigators he wasn’t present at the time of Kendrick’s killing but found his body in the home around one week before Thanksgiving.
Ms Williams told investigators on Sunday that she saw her boyfriend punching Kendrick last November and stopped him, the court heard.
She claimed she then came into the bedroom the next morning and found her son dead and covered in a blanket.
Ms Williams told investigators she confronted Coulter, who told her he was sorry and had lost control and repeatedly punched her son “until he went to sleep.”
She said she knew her son was dead but failed to report his death because Mr Coulter asked her not to and she feared her children would be taken away from her and she would be sent to prison.
Officials said at a press conference Wednesday that Mr Coulter murdered the little boy sometime between 20 and 29 November.
“Consistent” abuse for years
The alleged murder was not a one-off instance of the abuse the children suffered at the hands of Mr Coulter, according to law enforcement and the accounts of the surviving children.
The 15-year-old boy told officers that Mr Coulter would often lock his younger siblings in a bedroom and he could hear him beating them, the court heard Wednesday.
When the teen complained to his mother, he said nothing changed.
Sergeant Denis Wolfford said Wednesday that Mr Coulter had abused his girlfriend’s children “consistently” since he started dating their mother a few years ago.
“This is a textbook case of a person who abuses children,” he said.
The abuse continued even after Kendrick’s murder and after Ms Williams and Mr Coulter moved out of the apartment, officials said.
Just three weeks ago, the nine-year-old child suffered a jaw injury allegedly caused by Mr Coulter during one of the few times the adults made contact with the children in the past several months.
The young child must now undergo surgery for the injury.
The mother who “married” her son’s alleged killer
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in the press conference that there was “no evidence” that Ms Williams was also a victim of abuse by her boyfriend.
But instead of reporting her son’s death, Ms Williams allegedly moved out of the apartment and away from his rotting corpse to set up a new home with his alleged killer.
Officials said the couple moved to a property around a 25-minute drive away roughly five or six months after Kendrick’s death.
Ms Williams then appears to have married her son’s alleged killer soon after.
On June 18, she changed her Facebook status to married.
She also added a new cover photo of herself with Mr Coulter and a new profile picture of two of her sons.
The 35-year-old is believed to have at least six children, with the two others not living with her at the time of Kendrick’s death.
The four boys inside the apartment are to two different fathers, one of whom is believed to be dead while the other is not involved in his children’s lives, officials said.
The boyfriend who boasted about food and family online
While Mr Coulter allegedly starved and abused his girlfriend’s children, he attempted to present a somewhat different picture on social media.
The 31-year-old repeatedly showed off plates full of food and boasted about “family over everything” on his Instagram page.
In other posts, he is seen showing off diamante chains and jewellery, using the n-word and repeatedly posting with the acronym “FOE” – “Family Over Everything.”
He also posted several bizarre videos of him rambling to the camera, often either inside a home or a car.
In several posts, Mr Coulter showed off plates of food – all the while he was allegedly starving his girlfriend’s children.
In one photo, posted in September 2020, Mr Coulter shared a photo of a huge pan full of spaghetti and mincemeat in sauce.
He captioned the image: “F.O.E. FAMILY OVER EVERYTHING, we eat good if u apart of that fam ( the brand/movement) we finna enjoy this whole pot made with love F.O.E. FAMILY OVER EVERYTHING ALL DAY EVERYDAY!!!”
On 14 February – three months after Kendrick’s death – he posted a video on Instagram boasting about eating “the best steak I ever had” and telling the camera that people eat some of the best steak in prison.
Mr Coulter is seen showing off a plate filled with a steak, mash and greens next to a glass of pink wine.
Ms Williams is seen in the background at one point and they are both heard shouting at another person off-camera, before a teenage boy briefly enters the shot.
“Don’t sneak up like that. You know I’ll see that n*****,” Mr Coulter warns.
“You know I will. I see everything.”
In multiple posts, Mr Coulter refers to “FOE” or “Family Over Everything” in the captions and the 31-year-old has the phrase tattooed on his arm.
A search of records by The Independent also uncovered that Mr Coulter registered eight fictitious businesses in 2017, all named variations of “FOE” or “FOE Productions”.
A spokesperson for Mr Coulter’s family told The Independent on Wednesday that the 31-year-old has been estranged from them for several years and that they did not know any of the children he is accused of abusing.
“We are deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded. This is not how we raised our son to be,” the family said in a statement.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to those brave children.
“We did not know the children involved but we are praying for the soul of the children that passed, the remaining siblings and their family and all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”
The family added: “Our relationship with Brian has been distant for years.”
Prior to Sunday’s shocking revelation, neither Mr Coulter nor Ms Williams appear to have had much trouble with the law.
Ms Williams’ only brush with the law was a forgery charge back in 2006 which was later dismissed while Mr Coulter has had a string of traffic offenses such as speeding.
But the warning signs of the alleged abuse appear to have been there.
Neighbour reported smell coming from the apartment
A next-door neighbour told ABC13 that she noticed a foul smell coming from the apartment about four or five months after she moved in around 18 months ago.
She said she reported it to the front office of the complex on more than one occasion but they failed to do anything about it.
The smell became so bad, she said, that she would turn off her air conditioner to try to stop it coming in.
The modern complex at 3530 Green Crest Drive features 192 two and three-bedroom apartments and boasts several shared amenities including a swimming pool, fitness center, business center and 24-hour emergency maintenance.
According to its website, residents “have exclusive immediate access to miles and miles of hike and bike trails, relax at the pool courtyard, or stay fit with the help of our fitness studio”.
It is a complex for residents on a restricted income with the maximum household income for a family of five at $51,360.
It is unclear when the last inspection was carried out at the apartment by the property management.
When reached by phone, the apartment complex refused to answer The Independent’s questions.
Neighbours providing the teenager with food
It seems that some neighbours had noticed things weren’t right inside the home.
Sheriff Gonzalez said Ms Williams was “providing some food by delivery service or having food dropped off on a fairly routine basis” to the children but they were “very thin” and “malnourished”.
Some neighbours have said they were giving the 15-year-old boy food but did not know there were two other children – or the human remains of a fourth – living there.
Neighbour Erica Chapman told ABC13 she started giving the teenager food around six months ago as she noticed the mother was rarely there.
Another neighbour said he had also given the boy food and let him charge his phone after the power was cut to his home.
None of the neighbours reported what was going on to the authorities, saying they didn’t know how horrific the situation was behind closed doors.
Truancy records and a history with child protective services
But it has also emerged that authorities had been in contact with the family in the past.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services – which has now taken emergency custody of the surviving children – has said the family were known to them but that there was no active investigation at the time they were found.
Similarly, Ms Williams and her children were also known to the Alief Independent School District for skipping school.
A spokesperson with the district told The Independent on Tuesday that its last records of the children being enrolled in the district was 17 months ago in May 2020 when the 2020 school year ended.
Prior to this, the children’s mother had truancy papers filed against her after two of her children failed to show up to school.
A spokesperson said two truancy cases were filed by the district – one in November 2019 and one in March 2020 – but were not prosecuted by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The school also attempted an unsuccessful home visit in September 2020, they said.
Yet, despite all the warning signs, the nightmare going on inside the Texas apartment only came to light because the brave 15-year-old boy plucked up the courage to call 911 on Sunday afternoon.
By that time, an innocent eight-year-old boy was already dead and his three brothers scarred by years of abuse and the memory of seeing him decompose before their eyes.