Police were investigating the deaths of three people Tuesday in an apparent triple killing in Banning.
Two women and a man were reported deceased inside a ground-floor living area of a two-story home at 12:20 p.m., Banning police Chief Leonard Purvis said at the scene on Phillips Avenue, just south of Williams Street.
There was blood in the crime scene, and a 2-year-old boy was believed missing, Purvis said. He was located bound and gagged three hours later in a room in the same house, Purvis said.
"We were looking for him, and a vehicle was reported leaving the scene," Purvis said. "We feared he'd been abducted. We found him later in a room next to the bathroom."
The boy cried as law enforcement personnel and paramedics placed him on a wheeled gurney for ambulance transport.
Detectives were treating all three deaths as homicides, though a murder-suicide scenario had not been ruled out, Purvis said.
"I'm just glad they found the boy alive," Purvis said. "This is still a horrific situation, however."
By Tuesday evening Purvis said he had spoken with some family members of the deceased, and described their emotions ranging from shock to sadness, and restrained anger.
"We don't have much we can release at this point, but it appears to be a real whodunit," Purvis said just after 6:30 p.m. "Some of the family are deeply upset, and it's important that we respect their feelings right now. It really is a tragedy."
Coroner's investigators began removing remains of the deceased before sundown. Some observers became angry and cursed after one of the bodies was wheeled to a coroner's van.
The deaths were being treated as the first homicides of the year in Banning, Purvis said.
The dead man and one of the deceased women were believed to be the parents of the boy, Purvis said.
"We have no suspects or evidence of a motive at this time," Purvis said shortly after 3:30 p.m., when discovery of the boy was announced.
Residents in the close-knit neighborhood gathered on Phillips and pressed at times against crime scene tape used to close part of the road.
Martha Parra, 57, who lives across the street from the home where the bodies were found, said she recalled one of the women who died.
"She came here very thirsty once, and another time she came in the winter and asked for socks," Parra said. "I felt fortunate to be able to help her. They were not well-off."
Parra said she hopes law enforcement and city officials will focus on her neighborhood in future, and not only because of the deaths.
"I hope they pay attention beyond today," Parra said. "We need something else for this neighborhood, and it's not just about this tragedy. We are concerned for where we live, and it is not just about the interest today in what happened. Every neighborhood needs the authorities to go out and see the problems for themselves.
"The people who are homeless need help, and others in the neighborhood need help," Parra said. "This is how we avoid another tragedy."
Pastor Lillie Alexander, of God's Holy Hand Testimony Ministry on East Ramsey Street, said she had visited recently with the people who died.
"I've ministered to them and pray for them," Alexander said. "I've helped them with food and counseling and prayer. I heard about this today and it's just a tragedy.
"You never know what is going to happen," Alexander said, wiping away tears. "At least I got to spend time with them and I know they were reaching out. I'll always pray for them."
Banning is about 80 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Gorgonio Pass.