Community grieves for family of toddler found dead after being left in overheated car

People at the Crossroads Centre in Burlington, Ont., were in mourning Thursday for the family of a toddler who was found dead after being left in an overheated car.

Autopsy concludes boy died after being exposed to high temperatures for extended period of time, police say

The toddler's body was found outside of the Crossroads Centre, a complex that houses the faith-based television network that broadcasts 100 Huntley Street. (David Ritchie/CBC)

People at the Crossroads Centre in Burlington, Ont., were in mourning Thursday for the family of a toddler who was found dead after apparently being left in an overheated car.

An autopsy has concluded the boy, who police believe was three years old, died after being exposed to high temperatures for an extended period of time, according to Halton Regional Police.

The police announced late Thursday the preliminary cause of death was hyperthermia, "consistent with the child being left in a vehicle."

The community at the centre, which houses a faith-based television network and other private businesses, is in deep pain, said Crossroads chief operating officer Jack Vanderkooy and determined to support the family.

"Our focus is to support the family and their loved ones," he explained. "Not to condemn them, not [to] judge, just to show God's love to them through us. We are God's arms as we encircle them."

Prayer vigil for grieving family

The family who lost their son are not part of the centre's ministry, but were tenants in the building, according to Vanderkooy.

People at the centre gathered for a prayer vigil for the boy's family Thursday morning and addressed the loss in the network's flagship morning TV show, 100 Huntley Street. 

"There's a lot of pain in the building," said Vanderkooy. "Everyone in the building can relate, because we all have either children that age or grandchildren that age, so a tragedy like this really does affect everybody."

The boy was pronounced dead after emergency crews were called by a "hysterical male" who said he found a child without vital signs in a vehicle parked at the building on North Service Road, around 5:30 p.m. ET.

No charges have been laid and police are continuing to investigate. Temperatures that day reached a high of 27 C.

EMS and police attempted life-saving measures but were unsuccessful 1:00

Shawn Saulnier owns the building that houses the centre and confirmed he knows the family personally. He said he is heartbroken for their loss.

"I think they're devastated. They're a wonderful family," he said. "We know them. They're excellent parents and just a beautiful couple. Literally, the nicest couple next door you can imagine." ​

On Thursday, the lot where the boy's body was found was open again.

Cars parked in spaces that the night before had been ringed with yellow police tape and a landscaping company unloaded lawn mowers from a trailer just a few metres from where the coroner had pulled up.

There wasn't a sign of what had happened until a woman with short blond hair placed two bouquets in a parking space along the building's back wall.

The woman, who was visibly upset, would only say that she used to work there and "felt like I had to do something."

A woman laid two bouquets in the parking lot where the toddler's body was found. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Inside the building, the signs of loss were more obvious.

Crossroads members started the day with readings and prayers for grieving members.

Grief counsellors were at the centre Thursday to provide comfort, and the organization was also asking people to call its 24/7 prayer line for support.​

'This will not easily be forgotten'

Saulnier said he hasn't spoken with the family yet, but he thanked the community for the "overwhelming support" that's been shown to them.

Shawn Saulnier said the boy who died after being left in a hot car in Burlington comes from a "wonderful family." 0:18

Vanderkooy said he believes God is grieving along with the family and that the centre will continue to be there for the boy's parents.

"It's painful to see everyone grieving, but it's very encouraging to see how they're holding each other up," he said. "This is not over and this will not easily be forgotten."

About the Author

Dan Taekema

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca