The distraught grandfather of 17-month-old Justin Kowalczik spoke briefly Monday about his family's grief, as investigators continue piecing together what led to the boy's death and burial in a Farmingdale backyard.
Speaking outside his upstate Pine Island home, Donald Kowalczik, Justin's maternal grandfather, read from a handwritten note and said simply: "Our prayers are for the baby."
While he said the family had no other comment on the boy's death, he wrote in the note: "Right now, I can only pray for Justin."
The Suffolk County medical examiner's office is trying to determine what caused the boy's death, according to officials, after his mother, Heather Kowalczik, 29, led state investigators to his body last week in the backyard of her Farmingdale house. Authorities started to question the child's whereabouts after an initial call to Suffolk County Child Protective Services about the health of one of Kowalczik's two other sons.
Heather Kowalczik's boyfriend, Robert Rodriguez, 30, the father of her two other children, Robert Jr., 9, and Alex, 6, remains a "person of interest," but has not been charged in the case, according to New York State Police officials who are handling the multicounty investigation.
The home where Donald Kowalczik spoke Monday is where members of this tiny community remember his daughter living as a teen when she attended nearby Warwick Valley High School.
Her parents were divorced and her mother died of cancer three years ago, relatives have said.
Rebecca Marsh, 50, who lived downstairs from Heather Kowalczik in Middletown, along with her husband and two sons, said Kowalczik was pregnant with Justin when she first moved in. The baby was born at the now-shuttered Horton Memorial Hospital, just up the hill from their house, said Marsh.
"She never mentioned the father," she said.
Outside the Farmingdale home Monday, neighbors and passersby continued to leave small tokens of remembrance for the boy, including flowers and teddy bears, and tying blue ribbons -- symbolic of child abuse prevention -- in front of the metal fence surrounding the family's house.
Margaret Sehlmeyer, 32, a mother of three youngsters from North Massapequa, stopped by, lighting a candle and tying a blue ribbon for the boy. She said she also came by Saturday to leave flowers.
"They discarded him like he was garbage. He was not garbage," she said. "He was a human being -- a baby with his whole life ahead of him."
With Chau Lam