5 children killed in fiery crash may have been panhandling, police say

As the investigation continues into what exactly led up to that tragedy, some disturbing details have emerged.
Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 10:20 AM EDT
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SCARSDALE, N.Y. (WFSB/Gray News) - Connecticut children killed in a New York crash may have been spotted panhandling beforehand, investigators revealed.

Last month’s crash was described as one of the worst in Westchester County’s history.

Five children, ages 8 to 17 years old, died in the fiery wreck on the Hutchinson River Parkway.

According to investigators, six children had been traveling in a rental vehicle with no adult supervision when the driver ran off the road, hit a tree, and the vehicle caught fire.

It happened just after midnight as the children were returning to Connecticut from a trip to New Jersey.

Five of them died, including sisters Zahnyiah and Shawnelll Cross, their half-brothers, A.J. and Andrew Billips, and the unlicensed driver, 16-year-old Malik Smith Jr.

The Billips and Cross children lived in Derby at the time of the crash, but they were not enrolled in school.

As the investigation continues into what exactly led up to that incident, new details recently emerged.

The group of children was likely panhandling at a New Jersey Shopping Center just before the accident, investigators said.

They said they obtained surveillance footage that showed the children hours before the crash interacting with people in a way that suggested they were panhandling.

In a August 2022 incident in Milford, police were called to a parking lot on Boston Post Road for a report of children asking people for money and food.

One of the children was A.J. Billips, who died in the crash on the Hutchinson River Parkway. police said.

The incident report said A.J. initially gave police a fake name and birthdate and was “extremely guarded and not willing to offer up much information.” The report also said “the younger children were his siblings. [They] appeared nervous.”

The children claimed to be raising money for a youth basketball team; however, no record of the team they were soliciting was found.

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families was called, and officials worked to facilitate their safe return home.

Seven months later, the agency said it was again looking at the family due to the circumstances that led up to last month’s deadly crash.