Bruce Messick's brother and nephew have been homeless for years, often living in a tent in the woods where he brought them food and money.
When Messick went to check on them Tuesday afternoon in a wooded area in Stanton, he found them dead along with two others. They were in a tent equipped with a propane heater.
Early indications were they died from carbon monoxide poisoning, according to authorities.
“I opened the tent up and nobody was responding in there,” Messick said. “I thought maybe they were drunk, what have you. That’s when I reached in to grab them and they were cold, then I called 911.”
State police were on the scene near Walgreens at 536 Main St. (Route 7) late Tuesday as the investigation continued.
An autopsy will determine the cause of death of the four homeless people, but no foul play was suspected, police said.
Detectives were seen walking in and out of a path that leads back into the woods, where many homeless people set up camp.
The victims have not yet been identified.
“It’s devastating because I couldn’t take them in my house a lot of times so I’d come down here and try to help them out,” Messick said.
Messick said the deaths were a blow to him and his family. He said his sister buried her son a few months ago after he died from a fentanyl overdose, so now burying her brother and nephew was going to be even more difficult.
“Now it’s two more — it’s just devastating,” Messick said.
He said he’s not sure how the victims died, but the almost-full propane tank connected to the tent seemed to play a role in their deaths.
Messick said the propane tank being used by the four victims to keep warm had recently been dropped off.
“When you have it in an enclosed space like that, it’s dangerous,” he said.
For the last three nights, temperatures dipped below freezing with a low of 28 on Sunday.
Several of Messick’s family members and friends gathered near the entrance to a path that leads into the woods.
“It’s a damn shame,” a family friend said. “I knew them — they were good people.”
Friends and family said the group liked to drink, but they were “no druggies.”
“They were a lot of fun,” one man said.
Crime scene tape could be seen through the woods, about 100 yards from the entrance to the path behind Walgreens. The yellow of the tape was barely visible despite the trees being stripped of their leaves in winter.
About 50 feet from the path entrance, what appeared to be bedding lay in a grassy patch in the woods. The tent where the victims were found was beyond that, through more trees.
Detectives carrying evidence bags and blue rubber gloves were walking back toward where the tent was located. Other investigators were carrying cameras and note pads.
At 5:05 p.m., the Delaware Division of Forensic Science’s forensic investigator arrived on the scene.
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