Cars drove steadily down East Spruce Street in Lakewood Tuesday, slowing down in front of the house with the yellow crime scene tape draped across the front yard. Some stopped to talk, glancing over at the bungalow-style house that was still adorned with Christmas lights.
"It's a tragedy," said one man who did not want to be identified. He said he rents a house a couple of blocks away. "It's really tough."
Such was the scene in front of the home of the Lakewood toddler known as "J.C." who died at the bottom of a septic tank hole in her family's yard Monday evening.
One woman, who was particularly distraught, said she used to live next door to the house where the missing 2-year old girl died.
"The former owner and I were friends," she said. "I can tell you there was no open hole there then.
"It was probably an old, old septic that caved in," she said. "Usually a cement block is placed on it. They had to have huge big lids on them.
"I'm absolutely in shock. A child died because no one took the time to... see what was going on."
"They've (the houses on the block) been bought by landlords that don't care," she added. "And the building inspectors are overloaded."
The woman said she was not comfortable giving out her name.
Yellow crime scene tape was also wrapped around a small confined area of the yard on the left rear side of the one-story bungalow-style house. Another building sat behind the main house.
A few children's toys were strewn throughout the yard.
The girl's mother, Marina Matias, called police at 4:49 p.m. Monday to report her child was missing. Police and emergency service personnel began searching for the little girl, Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said.
The mother was inside the house tending to a 2-month-old baby while her four other children played in the backyard, Ford told Patch late Monday night.
The mother spent about 20 minutes frantically searching for the child, then called police, said Ford.
The search teams found the 3-foot wide hole in the yard, apparently leading to an uncovered septic tank. Lakewood Public Works was called in to pump out the water in the tank, Ford said.
"At approximately 7:30 p.m., the water level had been dropped and police and emergency personnel unfortunately made visual observation of the body of a child in that tank," she said.
Emergency crews were able to remove the child's body from the septic tank at 10:33 p.m., Ford said.
The child was pronounced dead at the scene by the Ocean County Medical Examiner, Ford said.
Ford said it was unclear whether the family knew the hole was in the backyard, or if the uncovered septic tank was operational.
The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and the Lakewood Police Department are conducting the investigation, she said.
Anyone with any information should call Detective Sgt. Carlos Trujillotovar at the Prosecutor's Office at 732-929-2027.