Franklin children’s deaths termed a tragic accident; hope chest was produced during recall year

The Lane hope chest in which a young Franklin brother and sister were trapped and died Sunday was made in 1939, one of the years that the Virginia company made chests that were later recalled due to concerns about children suffocating, Norfolk County prosecutors said.

“Through investigation we have confirmed that this hope chest was manufactured by the Lane Furniture Company of Altavista, Virginia, on July 13, 1939,” District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said this afternoon in a statement. “As has been publicized through that company, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and more recently in the media, that company recalled hope chests manufactured from 1912 until 1986 specifically because young children could become trapped inside and asphyxiated.”

The manufacturing date places the chest among the millions that were recalled in 1986, he said.

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In a shocking and heartwrenching case that embodied parents' worst fears, Lexi Munroe, 8, and Sean Munroe, 7, were apparently playing hide-and-seek Sunday night when they got into the hope chest and it locked shut with no way for them to get out.

The chest was in one of the children’s bedrooms, he said. The family had purchased it second-hand about 15 years ago.

Morrissey asked people who might own a similar hope chest or a piece of furniture with a similar locking mechanism to take a second look at it.

“If you close the lid and have to press or manipulate something on its exterior to get it to open, we urge you to contact the manufacturer for guidance or consider disabling the mechanism yourself. Some can be defeated by simply removing the portion of the latch attached to the lid of the chest,” he said.

“We would urge anyone who has any kind of chest, hope chest or piece of this type to examine it with new eyes,” he said.

“It’s not just Lane chests,” he added.

While autopsy results on the children won’t be official until toxicology tests are complete, “none of the information gathered in today’s autopsies appears to be inconsistent with the narrative that has emerged in this case: That of a tragic accident,” Morrissey’s office said in the statement.

Morrissey said Monday that the family had bought the hope chest used about 12 years ago. He said the chest in Franklin has “some type of locking mechanism that did not have the ability to be unlocked from the inside.”

Federal officials for years after the 1996 recall of the chest had warned that some of the dangerous chests might still be in circulation.

Lane Furniture recalled 12 million “Lane” and “Virginia Maid” cedar chests made between 1912 and 1987, saying they needed to have their locks replaced because of reports of children being trapped inside.