The North Charleston container yard where a 12-year-old boy died while playing with machinery Sunday had a history of break-ins, including two incidents in which kids snuck in and vandalized equipment last year.
Police said they are now trying to determine whether those two incidents are connected in some way to the death of young Corion Baptiste, who was crushed by a top loader at the ConGlobal Industries site.
It is unclear what, if any, steps ConGlobal took to beef up its security after five breaches at its sprawling facility off Spruill Avenue in 2010. The California-based shipping container and transport company did not respond to questions from The Post and Courier on Tuesday.
"The company is saddened by the tragic accident and extends its condolences to the family," ConGlobal offered in a short statement. "The company is cooperating in an investigation of the accident and cannot comment further at this time."
North Charleston police are investigating the circumstances around Corion's death, which occurred while he was playing with his younger brother and two friends inside the locked container yard.
He fell off a top loader and was run over by a friend who was driving another of the massive, forklift-like machines, police said.
Contrary to some reports, the company had not left the keys in the ignitions of the vehicles, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. A set of keys to heavy equipment was found at one boy's home Sunday after the accident.
Investigators are trying to determine where the keys came from and whether they were used to start the top loaders, he said.
The mother of one boy involved in the incident said Corion brought the keys along with him when he visited her home in the Union Heights neighborhood Sunday. The woman's daughter said Corion had possessed the keys for some time, and she had tried to convince him to give them up, fearing that something might happen.
Both spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying there are concerned about reprisals against the woman's 11-year-old son.
Teal Baptiste, Corion's mother, disputed their account. She said Corion had no keys, nor any pockets to carry them, in the outfit he wore Sunday.
A history of break-ins
The ConGlobal Industries property, near Shipyard Creek Road, is surrounded by chain link fence, barbed wire and "Beware of Dog" signs. But intruders have found their way inside on at least five other occasions in the past year, police records show.
Someone broke into a storage shed on the property in April 2010, stealing tools and destroying a vending machine in the process. Another break-in occurred the following month, this time with $800 worth of tools stolen. Two days later, $550 worth of tools were taken in a third burglary, police said.
In August of last year, three boys ages 10 to 12 were spotted riding bicycles on the property. They told a worker they were looking for a lost dog. Only later did the company discover that the youths had vandalized the property, setting off several fire extinguishers, tossing around jugs of paint and breaking off keys in the ignitions of two fork lifts, police said.
More vandalism was reported a few days later, along with the theft of three radios worth $1,200. A company supervisor told police he suspected the same youths from the previous incident.
Investigators are trying to determine if any of the boys from Sunday's incident were involved in the August vandalism episodes, Pryor said.
Hugs and prayers
As police went about their investigation, relatives and friends continued to gather Tuesday at a Baptiste family home to grieve, hug and pray.
Dawn Villalobos, whose daughter had been friends with Corion since kindergarten, shook with tears as she embraced Teal Baptiste in the front yard. "He was such a sweet boy," she said. "He will be truly, truly missed."
Corion's oldest brother, 21-year-old Dominique Baptiste, put down a thick stack of photos of his brother and helped set up folding chairs for the growing crowd. "His smile and personality were as bright as his complexion," he said of his light-skinned sibling. "Real bright."
Cheryl Mills, pastor of El-Shaddai Missionary Baptist Church, gathered with the family in a cramped living room and helped them plan for Corion's funeral. A lone ceiling fan churned the room's humid air. The smiling faces of children beamed from a host of family photos covering the walls.
"I know this is a lot for you," Mills said softly as Baptiste wiped her eyes. "You will never forget the day you bury your son. You just have to trust in God."
The arrangements were still being finalized as of press time. State Rep. Seth Whipper, who represents the area, also was in the process of organizing a fund to help defray the costs of the funeral and burial.
Across town, the mother of Corion's young friend in Union Heights prayed for the family and for her own son's recovery from the horrible death he witnessed. She was the one who called 911 around 11:41 p.m. Sunday after learning from her son that Corion had been involved in an accident.
The accident had occurred some six hours earlier, but the boys had been too scared to tell anyone what happened.
"I can only imagine the images those boys have in their brains," she said. "These kids were so close, and it's just such a horrific tragedy. These were just four little boys on a day that went horribly, horribly wrong."