The TV blasted inside Apartment 7 and a stench seeped out the door for days before a 4-year-old summoned neighbors to investigate.
They found a woman's bloated body facedown on the floor next to her bed, one arm folded beneath her, the other outstretched, a telephone by her side.Her three children stayed silent as the neighbors stared.
"I think they had cried so much that they weren't crying any more," janitor Sylvia Garcia said.
Investigators said Tuesday that the children - ages 4, 11/2 and 4 months - had spent the past three days sitting by their mother's decomposing body and crying. Food scraps littered the apartment. The eldest child had apparently been feeding the younger ones, fire department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.
The children were treated for dehydration and released into state custody. Authorities did not release their names or that of their 36-year-old mother.
Her body was found Tuesday morning after the oldest child knocked on a neighbor's door, looking for help, said 14-year-old Per-la Napoles.
"I said, `Where's your mama?' " Perla recalled. "He said, `She had a heart attack.' "
Perla alerted Garcia, and Garcia's mother pried the locked door open with a knife.
Police hadn't determined when the woman died, but neighbors had noticed a smell from the apartment and the sound of the television, which had been on for several days, Detective Charles Salazar said.
"When the manager went to knock on the door, the children would only say that their mother was asleep," he said.
Police said the woman apparently died of a heart attack. Investigators found heart medication next to her body.