Yet another tragic case, this one out of Madera, California, has emerged of parents reporting a child missing with a bullshit story only to be arrested days later in the child’s death.
This one, however, has taken some twists and turns that have made it sound like a lost episode of Criminal Minds.
On July 15, 2020, Briseida and Sukhjinder Sran reported their son, 2-year-old Thaddeus Sran, missing from the home in the 800 block of South C street in Madera, California, where the family had only lived for approximately two weeks. According to police, Thaddeus was put to bed around 10:00 PM on the evening of July 14, but by the time his parents awoke at 8:30 the next morning, Thaddeus was gone.
Fliers were posted around the neighborhood and the surrounding areas, and the Sran family offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Thaddeus’s return.
Thaddeus, who was described as being two feet tall, weighing thirty pounds, and last seen wearing a red shirt and Spider-Man pants.
Compounding the issue was the fact that Thaddeus had special needs. He was born premature and required a feeding tube and special care. He was non-verbal and, having just learned to walk, primarily crawled to get around.
No Amber Alert was issued, because there was no information about a possible vehicle, which most states require.
From the beginning, this story was eerily reminiscent of two-year-old Noah Tomlin, whose mother reported him missing from their Hampton, Virginia mobile home in June of 2019. Noah was thought to be autistic and also had a hard time getting around, so it immediately seemed unlikely that he left the family home of his own accord. That was the first thing I thought of when I initially saw Thaddeus’s story. My bullshit detector went off immediately.
Initially, the City of Madera Police Department said they were treating Thaddeus’s disappearance as a possible abduction. They requested assistance from the FBI and the US Marshal Service, so it was immediately clear they were taking the disappearance of this precious little boy seriously.
City of Madera Police Chief Dino Lawson called the little boy’s disappearance “a parent’s worst nightmare.”
“Time isn’t on our side right now,” Chief Lawson said. “It could be that he got out of the house; it could be that he was abducted. Everything is on the table. We’re looking at everything, and we’re leaving no stone unturned.”
On Friday, July 17, police announced they were scaling back the search after they had scoured “every inch of the neighborhood” and turned up exactly zero clues on what may have happened to little Thaddeus.
The Sran family, as I mentioned, had only been in the neighborhood for a few weeks when they reported Thaddeus missing. Next-door neighbor Ermelanto Espinoza told an Action News reporter in Spanish, “It’s all strange. I don’t think the boy was ever here. I think the alleged abduction was elsewhere, because I never saw anything.”
Now, that’s interesting.
Ermelanto told the reporter that he gets up for work in the morning at 3:00 AM and that the evening of Thaddeus’s purported disappearance, he heard nothing overnight. “When I was going to work, the lights inside were turned on two or three times,” he said. “Maybe he was sleeping, but someone was up.”
Before long, it started to become clear that Thaddeus’s parents, mother Briseida Sran and father Sukhjinder Sran, had something to hide. For one thing, they never appeared on the news, television, or any other public media to plead for their son’s safe return; in fact, their names were not even released during the first ten days of the investigation. Then, on Tuesday, July 21, six days after Thaddeus was reported missing, the City of Madera Police Department released a statement on Facebook saying:
“The Madera Police Department and our law enforcement partners continue to investigate the disappearance of Thaddeus Sran. We are looking into a variety of tips and leads and want the public to know that we appreciate their help in this case. Please know that there are many aspects of this investigation that we cannot comment on publicly at this time. But, we will not stop looking for Thaddeus.”
It continued, “Unfortunately, Thaddeus’s parents stopped cooperating early on in the investigation. We believe their assistance in this case would be helpful. We are hopeful that they will resume cooperating with Madera Police Department detectives and help us to locate Thaddeus.”
The evening the statement was released, community members rallied at Courthouse Park in Madera in a public vigil to pray for Thaddeus’s safe return. Many members of the community had been conducting searches of their own over the previous week; it was said the missing boy’s parents did not participate in any of those searches.
A flyer advertising the vigil read, “In his darkness place we need to be the light to guide him out.” Attendees were asked to wear red or blue in honor of Thaddeus’s hero, Spider-Man.
Sunndeep Sran, the second cousin of Thaddeus’s father, told YourCentralValley, “We just want to bring him home safe and alive.” She said that her children go to school with Sukhjinder’s older kids, but she has not spoken with her cousin since March. “The Sran family appreciates every effort everyone is making. We know as much as the media, what the police department is saying, so we are all in support of bringing Thaddeus home.”
Here’s where things really start to get weird. According to Madera Police Lieutenant Josiah Arnold, Briseida and Sukhjinder Sran had a daughter who died in 2015, although he did not provide further details other than to say that the girl’s death was investigated, and the case remains open.
A little digging revealed that Thaddeus’s sister, Divina Nazareth Sran, was born on April 14, 2015 and died on August 16, 2015.
Reportedly, Briseida lay down for a nap, and five hours later, she awoke to find her daughter not breathing. It has been said that Divina was found to have bruises and burns and died as a result of blocked airways.
On Thursday, July 23, the family’s lawyer released a statement to news stations saying that the Srans were cooperative until the tone of the authorities changed.
“They were cooperative until law enforcement became overtly accusatory,” wrote lawyer Roger T. Nuttal. “These are good people. I would venture to say they weren’t involved in illegal behavior in regards to [Thaddeus].”
Mr. Nuttal insists that police stopped cooperating with the family when they were told the family would not speak with them without their attorney.
Regarding the 2015 of Divina Sran, Mr. Nuttal told reporters that the infant was also born premature and died from SIDS. He represented Briseida G. Sran on that case, as well. In an interview with the Fresno Bee, Mr. Nuttal said, “No charges were filed, and we were able to show, frankly, that there was no reason for them to be held liable for anything, and in fact, they were able to reunite with the family.”
Mr. Nuttal continued, “That was a baby that was premature, and she was at Valley Children’s for several months before she came home. She was in a rather very fragile condition… It was one of those crib deaths.”
After confirming that Madera County Child Protective Services was involved in the investigation into Divina’s death, Mr. Nuttal said, “It was a very, very awful time for them. The mother, who I represented, I think she was with the child every day at Valley Children’s.”
Evidently, according to a government source speaking on condition of anonymity, the Srans were also investigated by CPS in 2019 in regard to Thaddeus, although the details of that case are not clear. It was closed in January of 2020, and Thaddeus remained with his parents.
Lieutenant Josiah Arnold told the Bee he could not go into detail about prior cases. “I can’t comment on CPS cases other than to say we are aware of prior incidents involving this family and are reviewing those cases. In a case like this, we look at every piece of information we have and evaluate everything for relevance.”
On Thursday, July 23, there was a terrible but not altogether unexpected bombshell in the case. In a news conference, Chief Dino Lawson told gathered reporters that, around 9:15 on Thursday morning, the remains of a child between the ages of two and three were found by cadaver dogs in an agricultural fire pit close to an almond orchard west of Madera, near the intersection of Road 21 and Avenue 14.
“It’s a very strong possibility that it is little Thaddeus,” Chief Lawson said during a news briefing.
Official identification cannot be made until an autopsy is performed; neither can cause of death be determined.
When asked if Thaddeus’s parents were suspects in his disappearance, the chief responded, “Everything is on the table, nobody’s been ruled out at this point, and that’s how we are going to continue to handle this case.”
Chief Lawson confirmed that the remains were discovered in an agricultural area. He also told reporters that Thaddeus’s mother, Briseida, is currently eight months pregnant. (Isn’t that just fucking awesome. /sarcasm)
Investigators spent all day searching for evidence in the area where the body was located.
Another vigil was held for Thaddeus on Thursday night, attended by heartbroken community members who came together to pray for the little boy.
An autopsy for Thaddeus was scheduled for Friday, July 24 at 2:00 PM. The findings have not yet been released.
Also on Friday, another major development in the case was announced when Madera Police confirmed the arrest of 42-year-old Sukhjinder Sran and 29-year-old Briseida Sran on suspicion of murder. The two were taken into custody around 7:00 AM at the home of Briseida’s father on Winter Way, which is approximately four miles from the site where the toddler’s remains were discovered. This, neighbors say, is where Sukhjinder, Briseida, and their four children lived until they moved into the house on C street about two weeks prior to Thaddeus’s disappearance.
Weirdly, according to ABC30 Action News, that home is next door to the house where 18-year-old Krista Pike was stabbed and beaten to death in 2008 over a romantic rivalry, and it is also directly across the street from the home where, in April of this year, 35-year-old Maigan Olson was allegedly shot to death by her husband, 33-year-old Jeffery Olson, who was also the father of Maigan’s two children and who reportedly admitted his actions to the police. I’m thinking residents of that neighborhood should drink bottled water or move.
“My heart goes out to Thaddeus,” said Chief Lawson. “My heart goes out to his brother and sisters. Today, we will have some justice for them.”
Due to her pregnancy, Briseida was given a full medical examination before she was booked into Madeira County Jail.
“We will continue because it’s an ongoing case,” said Chief Lawson, “but I’m here before you to say that little Thaddeus will have some justice.”
Chief Lawson confirmed at Friday’s news conference that the remains of the toddler found on Thursday had been burned.
Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno said, “We look forward to receiving the case and doing the appropriate evaluation and taking it forward as quickly and efficiently as we can, again to continue getting justice for Thaddeus.”
Roger Nuttall, the Srans’ attorney, of course held a press conference on Friday in front of his law office, saying he was “stunned” by the arrests and that he had received a distraught call from Sukhjinder from jail. “I told him, you have to hang on.”
Mr. Nuttall said that the man was a hard-working truck driver and that Briseida worked part-time to take care of their children. He plans to represent one of the parents, although it is not yet known which, and he said he will attend a dependency hearing on Monday for the couple’s surviving three children, including a boy and two girls.
“I am unaware of any evidence that truly supports the charge that they have been arrested for,” Mr. Nuttall said. “I did not expect this.”
“I have no reason to believe that these people would purposely hurt their children, their child.”
Mr. Nuttall mentioned that he held the news conference partly to counter the Madera Police Department’s claims that his clients were not cooperating with the investigation. “Their family was getting death threats based upon the media having attributed that to law enforcement.”
A local artist, Omar “Super” Huerto, has requested donations from the community to help keep Thaddeus’s memory alive. He went door to door asking Madera businesses to allow him a space to paint a mural of Thaddeus. Now that he has received permission from a local business, he plans to begin painting on Sunday, July 26.
Members of Thaddeus’s family created a makeshift memorial near the area where the remains were found. Others have continued bringing tokens of their love and support for Thaddeus to the site, including toys, candles, and candles. On Friday morning, family members gathered at the memorial where the toddler’s remains were discovered for a private vigil.
After the arrests were announced on Friday, other members of the Sran family expressed their shock. Sunndeep Sran said she did not expect her cousin’s arrest, saying he was a “really nice guy, quiet, humble. I don’t know what happened in life for this to happen. I can’t fathom; I can’t understand.”
She mentioned the family’s gratitude for the help they’ve received from the community, including those who “helped with the organizing of the searches and the vigils; we’re just grateful. We’re grateful for law enforcement. They put in a lot of work.”
Sunndeep and her husband are trying to have Thaddeus’s sisters and brother placed in their home.
Formal charges against Sukhjinder and Briseida are expected to be filed next week.
Although underreporting is always a major concern, studies show that children with disabilities are abused at a disproportionately higher rate than other children. These children may be more vulnerable, according to some researchers, due to the societal stigma of the disability rather than the nature of the disability itself, suggesting that children with disabilities may be perceived as less valuable.
According to PreventChildAbuse.org:
“Families with children with disabilities can experience additional stressors including:
- feeling unprepared to handle the care of a disabled child, including acceptance of that child as being ‘different,’
- having financial or time limits stretched as additional medical/educational activities are suggested, and
- lacking necessary social supports or networks to work through the many concerns and situations that arise in providing care for this child and the rest of the family.
All of these can result in increased vulnerability to abuse. A child with difficult to handle behavior patterns, or communication difficulties, may become a target for physical abuse. Children who are unable to communicate their needs may experience greater instances of neglect.”
We’ve seen the tragic consequences of this lack of regard for children with disabilities in many prior cases. Josias Marquez immediately came to mind when I read Thaddeus’s story, because he had many of the same special needs that Thaddeus was reported to have. We’ve heard time and time again about the severe abuse of children with either confirmed or purported behavioral difficulties, as in the cases of Raylee Browning, Thomas Valva, Alex Hurley, Noah Tomlin, and, most recently, Nakota Kelly. In all of these cases and many more, these children were extra susceptible to abuse by those who should have been their fiercest advocates and protectors.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Thaddeus’s story.
Sources: ABC30, State of California Office of the Attorney General website, CrimeOnline, PEOPLE, The Daily Beast, Dignity Memorial, YourCentralValley.com, Facebook, the Fresno Bee, Fox26 News, PreventChildAbuse.org