In a devastating car crash that occurred last month in Westchester County, five children lost their lives. According to surveillance footage, it is believed that the children might have been returning from panhandling at a New Jersey shopping center.
The victims included sisters Zahnyiah, 12, and Shawnell Cross, 11, their half-brothers AJ Billips Jr., 17, and Andrew Billips, 8, and their cousin Malik Smith Jr., 16. The accident took place on the Hutchinson River Parkway in Scarsdale on March 12 as the group was heading back to their home in Connecticut. Malik Smith Jr., who did not possess a driver’s license, was driving a relative’s rented vehicle when the car veered off the road, crashed into a tree, and caught fire.
Authorities suspect that Smith may have been distracted or fallen asleep at the wheel, causing him to miss a turn. The sole survivor of the crash was Abraham Billips, 9, who was rescued from the burning vehicle by a good Samaritan.
Westchester County Police are still investigating the fatal incident, but surveillance footage from a New Jersey shopping center shows the children interacting with local shoppers in a manner suggestive of panhandling just hours before the tragedy. However, the police have not confirmed whether the children were indeed panhandling.
This incident follows a similar occurrence in August 2022, when police encountered AJ and his siblings interacting with people on Boston Post Road in Connecticut. During that interaction, AJ gave a false name and date of birth to the officers and was hesitant to provide any further information. The younger children claimed they were collecting funds for a youth basketball team, but no record of the team was found.
Investigators revealed that the children, who lived in Derby, were not attending school at the time of their deaths. The Connecticut Department of Children and Families is currently investigating the family.
Malik Smith Sr., the father of the driver involved in the crash, has previously stated that he had warned his son against driving without a license or permit. In a heartfelt tribute to his children, Anthony Billips Sr. expressed the indescribable pain the family is enduring and emphasized that they would not wish such a tragedy upon anyone.