FRANKLIN — Dawn Powers carried a bouquet of flowers in her hands today when she walked up to the Chestnut Street home where two young siblings died Sunday when they locked themselves inside a hope chest.
Powers said her daughter was a frequent playmate of 8-year-old Lexi Munroe, who was killed, along with her brother, Sean, 7, in what authorities believe was a stunning, tragic accident.
“Two of the nicest kids,’’ said Powers, who said she was emotionally drained by the sudden loss of two children from her neighborhood. “It’s just devastating.’’
Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said the children were found inside a chest made by Lane Furniture of Virginia and that the chest was in a child’s bedroom in the split-entry home.
Morrissey said he did not know what model the chest was, but said the family had acquired it more than a dozen years ago. “It’s exact age and vintage is unknown at this time,’’ he said, adding that investigators have the chest and are now examining it.
“It has some type of locking mechanism that did not have the ability to be unlocked from the inside,’’ said Morrissey, adding the family were not the original buyers of the chest. “It was bought used.’’
Lane Furniture recalled 12 million chests in 1996 with lids that automatically latched shut when closed. The recall came after reports of at least six children suffocating in the chests. The recall sought all “Lane” and “Virginia Maid” brand cedar chests made between 1912 and 1987, saying they needed to have their locks replaced. The company would provide new locks free of charge to prevent entrapments, federal regulators said.
For years after the recall, the agency continued to warn about the chests, concerned that the unmodified chests were still in circulation.
Morrissey said that on Sunday, at least one parent was at home the entire day. He said all of the children and at least one parent gathered for dinner around 6 p.m. “We are trying to sort out events that occurred after that,’’ he said.
Officials have said a relative discovered the two children in the chest around 8 p.m. Both were unresponsive and were rushed to hospitals in Norwood and Milford. They were later pronounced dead. Morrissey said autopsies by the state medical examiner’s office are now set to be conducted Tuesday.
Morrissey said no decision can be made about how to treat the incident legally until the autopsies are completed. He said investigators spoke with the family members, who were reeling from the sudden deaths of two children.
“It was difficult for investigators to speak with family members last night [because] they were going through a very painful period. The investigation is continuing,’’ he said. “The same thoughts are going through my head that are going through your head.’’
Morrissey said the incident had impacted investigators, emergency workers, and even those in his office who have no direct role in the investigation, but are shocked by the loss of two children. “Any time you lose a child, it’s a tragic,’’ he said. “To lose two, it’s horrific.’’
The landlord for the family, Joe Proia, described the family as a “great, hard-working family.”
“It’s just the saddest thing,’’ Proia said. “The kids are great. It’s just terribly painful.’’
Powers, the neighbor, said the little girl was a frequent visitor at her home, where she often played for hours with Powers’s daughter. “If she wanted something, she’d tell you,’’ Powers said.
The younger brother, Powers said, was a fan of the Star Wars movies, and a high-energy boy who would not not let small injuries like a skinned knee keep him from play. “He’d bounce right up,’’ Powers said.
Powers added, “They were just wonderful kids. I can’t believe they are gone. It’s just absolutely tragic. I don’t know how the family will be able to get through this.’’
According to Powers, the siblings both attended the Davis Thayer Elementary School in town. In a statement, Franklin School Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski said the system has activated its emergency counseling plan for students.
“Our deepest thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to the family and to all members of the Franklin school community who are affected by this terrible news,’’ she said. “To assist those impacted by this tragedy, we have activated our crisis team. … We ask that the entire community respect the privacy of the family at this very difficult time.’’
A hope chest is typically a large chest used for storage. The name harkens to a time when women would accumulate clothes, linen, and other items in them in anticipation of being married.
The incident is currently considered an accident, but authorities are continuing to investigate.
A neighbor told the Globe last night that the children were the youngest of five siblings, the oldest of whom is a high school junior.