By Deanna Paul, The Washington Post
The parents of an 18-month-old boy who died in September from malnourishment have been arrested by Florida police on charges of manslaughter and child neglect.
On Sept. 27, around 4 a.m., Sheila O’Leary nursed the child briefly and, she told authorities, became worried when he began breathing shallowly, the Florida Fort Myers News-Press reported. Rather than call for help, though, the O’Learys went to sleep.
The paramedics who responded to a 911 call later that day pronounced the boy dead at the Cape Coral, Florida, home; he weighed just 17 pounds when he died, according to police reports, significantly under the average weight for a child his age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sheila and Ryan O’Leary told investigators that the vegan family only eats fruit, vegetables and raw foods, such as mangoes, rambutans, bananas and avocados, according to the News-Press. The parents supplemented the toddler’s diet with breast milk.
The child, who was home-birthed had never seen a doctor.
The couple turned themselves in to authorities on Nov. 6, after the medical examiner’s office released its autopsy findings: the cause of death was malnutrition and complications, including dehydration, microsteatosis of liver, and swollen hands, feet and lower legs.
They were booked at the Lee County jail on charges of felony manslaughter and child neglect. Bond was set for both at $250,000, and an arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 9.
In a statement on his law firm’s website, attorney John Musca, who is representing the 35-year-old mother, called the boy’s death “tragic.”
The toddler, he said, had been “struggling with illness for the past six months, making it difficult for him to eat. The mother said that the little boy began to recuperate, but then started teething, causing him to have new struggles with eating.”
No attorney was listed for Ryan O’Leary, who is 30, in the Lee County jail records.
The O’Learys have two other children together, ages 3 and 5, whom police saw at their residence in September. One had blackened and decaying teeth, the News-Press reported, at both were extremely malnourished, weighing under the third percentile for their age groups.
According to the probable cause statement, Sheila O’Leary told police her children were all home-schooled, though law enforcement could not find records of them actively enrolled in a home-school program.
NBC News reported that the children were removed from the home and are being looked after by the Department of Children and Families’ care.