NASHVILLE -- The cause of death for a Bedford County couple found dead in a house fire nearly three months ago remains unknown as authorities continue to investigate the whereabouts of two children considered missing from the home.
According to autopsy reports obtained by The Associated Press, the cause and manner of death for 69-year-old Mollie McClaran and 72-year-old Leon "Bubba" McClaran could not be determined, although the remains were severely charred and soot was found in their airways.
The couple's remains were recovered after a fire erupted at their home the evening of Sept. 23, but the grandchildren, 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and 7-year-old Gage Daniel, were never found after repeated searches of the rubble.
A statewide Amber Alert remains in effect for the children after investigators said they could not find evidence that the two died in the fire.
The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said the fire's damage to the remains likely made it hard to determine for certain what killed the couple. According to the medical examiner's report, both remains had to be identified by X-rays and DNA analysis.
"When someone is that badly burned, it's difficult to determine a cause of death," she said.
According to the autopsy reports, additional remains were found and later identified as a foot belonging to Mollie McClaran, as well as remains of two small animals. The autopsy also found thermal fractures of the skulls, ribs and bones of the arms and legs. Soot was found in the tracheas of both bodies.
Toxicology reports also were ordered for the couple. Mollie McClaran's report said morphine and alprazolam, a drug used to treat anxiety, was found in her liver. Mary Lamb, the sister of Leon McClaran, said Mollie was being treated with the drugs because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
"She had been diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, and it had returned," Lamb told The Associated Press on Monday.
TBI agents continue to follow up on leads and tips about the two children, but no active searches are ongoing, Helm said.
"The calls and leads tend to decrease as time passes," she said. "We are getting very few."
Lamb said she became concerned that the two children were not in the home when forensic evidence teams were unable to find any of their remains even after days of sifting and searching of the home.
"If those children were not in that fire, then my brother died fighting for them," Lamb said. "I honestly believe that the two children were murdered."
Lamb said donations are being collected at a local church for a reward for information about the children. She said she doesn't want the public to forget about the ongoing investigation.
The family is planning a public event Dec. 22 at the site of the destroyed home.
"I don't want Chloie and Gage to be forgotten," she said. "Someone knows where those children are."McClarans' cause of death unknown