Investigators in Tennessee are searching for two children after discovering that their bodies were not at the scene of a deadly house fire as earlier believed.
Police initially thought 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and her 7-year-old brother, Gage Daniel, had been killed in a house fire Sunday in Unionville, Tenn., about 40 miles southeast of Nashville, along with their step-grandparents.
But after investigators failed to recover their bodies, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued endangered children alerts.
"The fact that we don't have sufficient evidence from fire investigators right now to positively conclude that they died in this fire makes us want to make sure that they are not somewhere else," TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Wednesday.
Cadaver sniffing dogs combed through the house that belonged to Leon and Molly McClaran Wednesday as investigators used infrared cameras attached to helicopters to scour the scene.
Fire officials say they've recovered the bodies of Leon McClaran Sr., 72, and his 70-year-old wife, Molly, inside the home, but not the bodies of the children. "If we just had ashes, their little bodies, you know, but we don't have anything," Mary Lamb, the sister of Molly McClaran, said.
Former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said that in these kinds cases, if the children are kidnapped, it is typically by someone they know. "In most of these situations, statistically, children this age, over 90 percent of the time, are taken by their own parents or a close relative," he said.
The children were reportedly last seen near the home around 6:30 Sunday night, about three hours before the fire began. Investigators initially believed that all four family members were asleep when the flames engulfed the home.
"Their mother has been spoken to, she does not have the children," Helm said. "There are other family members that we are looking to speak with today."
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services investigated the mother of the two kids and Daniel's father between 2006 and 2010, spokesman Brandon Gee told The Associated Press. Gee said that the department is sharing information with investigators involved in the case.
The children's step-grandparents, whom family members described to the AP as generous and loving, were raising them because they needed a home.
As detectives try to piece together what happened to Chloie and her brother, their family is enduring a waiting game. "We will wait and pray," said Mary Lamb, a relative of the kids.