As Boise Deputy Police Chief Jim Kerns promised Wednesday to "determine how and when Robert Manwill died, and who is responsible," his comments narrowed the field of suspects to people who knew Robert.
Police still won't name any suspects or even people of interest. Kerns said police would not prematurely release anything that could "compromise the legal procedures" and the integrity of their case.
A neighbor said she heard Melissa Jenkins tell police she was working the night 8-year-old Robert disappeared. Another neighbor said she saw Daniel Ehrlick Jr. about 7:45 that night outside his home. He often stayed home to care for Robert and the couple's 18-month-old son, Aidan.
State Health and Welfare officials had taken the younger boy away from Jenkins and Ehrlick Jr. last October, after Jenkins was charged with fracturing the child's skull.
Jenkins later was convicted of misdemeanor injury to a child and is on probation until March 2011.
A neighbor and friend, Carol Carrillo, said Aidan had been back in their custody for about two months. She said the couple worked hard to meet Health and Welfare standards to get him back.
Robert lived primarily with his father, Charles, in New Plymouth - an arrangement crafted after Jenkins was laid up in the hospital for a few weeks before Aidan was born and she had no one to take care of Robert.
An affidavit that Charles Manwill filed at the time to get temporary custody of Robert states that Jenkins told him she "was being physically abused by her ex-boyfriend (the apparent father of the unborn child)."
He added that the hospital "has kept the admission of mother Melissa, and her room number, secret because mother Melissa is concerned that the ex-boyfriend may storm into the hospital and mother Melissa's room and cause extreme trouble."
Ehrlick Jr. also has been barred from being around Jenkins' daughter, not from anything he did, but because the father, Raymond Ames, said he didn't like him or want him around the toddler. The girl lived with Melissa Jenkins until Ames got custody last year.
Family and neighbors say Ehrlick Jr. has given at least two separate explanations about the night Robert disappeared.
Ehrlick Jr.'s father said his son accused him of taking Robert, but he denied it. A resident in the building who did not want to be identified said Ehrlick Jr. told her that Robert was in the hot tub and pool the night he went missing and that a heavy-set couple invited the child to a birthday party. Other neighbors say Robert was never near the pool that night.
Neighbors said neither Jenkins nor Ehrlick Jr. have been at the apartment since Wednesday. One neighbor and KBCI-TV said Ehrlick Jr. has been in a treatment center since being treated at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise for an undisclosed reason.
Dorothy Aydelotte, Robert's aunt and sister of his father, said Charles Manwill is doing his best to deal with Robert's death.
"He's better than he was a couple days ago, but not good," Aydelotte said. "He's upset, understandably. Robert was very close with his dad."
On Wednesday, Carrillo, Jenkins' upstairs neighbor, said she trusted Jenkins and Ehrlick with her four kids and doesn't believe either of them could be involved.
"There's a little boy who's dead," she said. "There can be no common sense to that. Who could do that? It's hard for me to see that someone that I interacted with on a daily basis could do something like that. ... I'm not in the grieving stage, I'm in the shock stage."
Mindy Clark, who lives in the apartment complex, visited the makeshift memorial to Robert that has been growing for days.
"I feel kind of devastated ... . I've seen him playing," Clark said. "(Today's news is) just kind of hard to swallow. It's just hard ... . Who would hurt a child and just throw him away?"
Katherine Jones contributed to this report.
Kathleen Kreller: 377-6418; Katy Moeller: 377-6413.