(Trends Wide) — Nearly 15 months ago, the adoptive parents of Orrin and Orson West told police the young children went missing from the family’s yard in Southern California, authorities said. Now authorities say the brothers were killed by their adoptive parents months before they were reported missing, though their bodies “have not been found,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said Wednesday. They were charged with murder.
“This morning, I am saddened to announce that the inquest has revealed that Orrin and Orson West have passed away,” Zimmer said.
“The investigation also revealed that they died three months before their adoptive parents reported them missing. However, I am pleased to announce that this week, the Kern County Grand Jury indicted Trezell and Jacqueline West, the adoptive parents, for the Murder of Orrin and Orson West”.
Bakersfield police arrested the couple from California City around 7 pm Tuesday, the district attorney said.
Zimmer said both have been accused of:
- Two counts of intentional manslaughter, in connection with the deaths of Orrin and Orson West
- Two counts of child abuse, with Orrin and Orson West as victims
- One charge of false reporting in an emergency
If convicted of both murder charges, each of the defendants could face 30 years to life in prison, Zimmer said. The prosecutor told reporters that she could not go into specific details of the case.
Trends Wide could not immediately determine if the Wests have legal representation. The couple will be processed Thursday, Zimmer said.
The Wests have two other adopted children and two biological children, all of whom are in the custody of child protective services, Zimmer said.
How the case unfolded
On Dec. 21, 2020, Trezell and Jacqueline West told California City police that Orrin, then 4, and Orson, then 3, had disappeared from the family’s backyard, Zimmer said.
Police and community volunteers searched, but to no avail, the district attorney said.
In the early days of the search, Trezell and Jacqueline West spoke to reporters and asked for the public’s help in finding the children.
Trezell West said he was moving firewood while his wife wrapped Christmas presents inside the house and the children played outside.
“I came to my house, I saw them there, I went in the house, I came back out, I didn’t see them now,” Trezell West said at the time. “I realized that I left the door open and I panicked. I went into the house, searched the house, my wife and I.”
Trezell West said he got into his truck to look for the children. “I looked down the street, in both directions. It was getting dark, it was cold.” He said that when he couldn’t find the children, he came home and told his wife that they had to call the police.
During the December 2020 briefing, a reporter said the children’s birth mother believes the couple was involved.
“It’s understandable, I would think the same,” Trezell West said. He encouraged the public to call the police with any information.
Multiple law enforcement agencies “worked diligently, hundreds of hours over the next 12 months, looking for the children,” Zimmer said.
The district attorney declined to detail information that led authorities to believe the foster parents killed the two boys in September 2020, about three months before they were reported missing.
“I’m not allowed to go over the facts of the case in this case,” Zimmer told reporters Wednesday. “The facts of the case should be what we produce at the jury trial because we want both the prosecution and the defense to have a fair trial in the case.”
But Zimmer said the information was enough for a grand jury to indict Trezell and Jacqueline West.
The grand jury met in December and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, the district attorney said.
“We were able to prove to the grand jury that the children were dead, that they were murdered,” Zimmer said. “And we did it through a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence. And the jury was convinced that they were dead.”
The children’s bodies have not been found.
Zimmer acknowledged that some people may be confused about how someone could be charged with murder when no body has been found.
“The fact that their bodies were not found by law enforcement does not preclude a homicide prosecution,” the district attorney said.
She said there have been other “no body” cases that have led to homicide convictions around the country, including at least two such cases in Kern County.
‘Now is the time to start the duel’
Rosanna Wills, the children’s biological cousin, said she was devastated by the news that authorities believe Orrin and Orson are dead.
“Now is the time to begin the mourning,” Wills told Trends Wide affiliate KBAK after the district attorney’s announcement.
“We just want to know why they would hurt two babies.”
But the children’s aunt, Kiki Hoard, said she cannot fully mourn until the children’s bodies are found.
“We’re not going to have a lockdown until they bring the babies home so we can have a proper burial,” Hoard told KBAK.
“That’s all we want now: their bodies, closure, so we can cry now.”
Local police chiefs recognized the work of the officers and volunteers who scoured the community looking for Orrin and Orson.
“This is a tragedy, an absolute tragedy that was reported in my city that two young children could be killed by their parents,” said California City Police Chief Jon Walker.
Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Terry said “this is not the outcome that we and so many have hoped and prayed for over the last year.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Orrin and Orson, who, with today’s news, have had their worst fears realized,” Terry said Wednesday.
But there won’t be a full resolution of the case until the bodies are found and “these kids are brought home,” Terry said.
“We now realize that the search for the children began after the real tragedy had already occurred.”