Police: Furnace was source of carbon monoxide deaths in Moorhead

Police have closed the investigation into the carbon monoxide deaths of seven Moorhead residents following blood results indicating the source of poisoning was the home’s furnace, according to Moorhead police Capt. Deric Swenson.

Authorities quickly ruled out trauma as a cause of death when the seven relatives were found dead in their rented duplex on Dec. 18, and preliminary blood tests found high levels of carbon monoxide in the victims’ bodies.

The two possible sources of carbon monoxide in the home were a van in the garage and the unit’s furnace. Further blood tests did not show the presence of blood cyanide, which would have indicated the vehicle was the source.

The victims were Belin Hernandez, 37, and Marleny Pinto Orellana, 34, their children 16-year-old Breylin, 7-year-old Mike and 5-year-old Marbely Hernandez Pinto; Belin’s brother Elder Noe Hernandez, 37, and the couple’s niece, Mariela Pinto Orellana, 19. Funeral services were Jan. 14 for five of the relatives; services for brothers Belin and Elder were expected to be held in Honduras once their bodies were sent home at the request of their mother.

The Hernandez Pinto family came to Moorhead from Honduras less than a decade ago. Gail Ferguson, a Moorhead educator who befriended Breylin when the girl was a fifth-grader, said Breylin told her she remembered being carried by her father on a journey from Honduras to America. Mike was also a cancer survivor.

The family is remembered as kind and hardworking by neighbors, fellow attendees of Mount Carmel Church, former teachers and others. Belin and Elder worked in construction. Mike and Marbely went to S.G. Reinertsen Elementary School and Breylin attended Moorhead High School.

The family had rented the duplex on Moorhead’s south side for about two years. Before the deaths, the city had last inspected the unit in September 2020 and ordered its owner to service bathroom exhaust fans.

City records show the duplex is owned by Wolverton, Minn.-based JEM Property Development, with Jason Ennen of Moorhead listed as the responsible party. Ennen said Monday that he would not comment on the property or the deaths.

State law requires the owner of multifamily dwellings to provide and install carbon monoxide detectors within 10 feet of each room used for sleeping; it is the tenant’s responsibility to keep the device in good repair.

Police said the home did not have a working carbon monoxide detector, although a detector was found in the unit detached from the wall and with a battery removed.

Several residents of the 4400 block of 13th Street S. live in duplexes built at the same time as the Hernandez Pinto home in 2014 and are managed by the same company. Police Chief Shannon Monroe said in December the owners of the duplexes planned to check all units for working carbon monoxide detectors.

After the deaths, Minnesota media personality Sheletta Brundidge mailed 108 donated carbon monoxide detectors to Moorhead-area residents who reached out to her on her website, she said. Brundidge lost five family members to carbon monoxide poisoning during Hurricane Laura in Louisiana.